Observed shyness leads to more automatic imitation in early childhood
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The authors investigated children's automatic imitation in the context of observed shyness by adapting the widely used automatic imitation task (AIT). AIT performance in 6-year-old children (N = 38; 22 female; 71% White) and young adults (17-22 years; N = 122; 99 female; 32% White) was first examined as a proof of concept and to assess age-related differences in responses to the task (Experiment 1). Although error rate measures of automatic imitation were comparable between children and adults, children displayed less reaction time interference than adults. Children's shyness coded from direct behavioral observations was then examined in relation to AIT scores (Experiment 2). Observed shyness at 5 years old predicted higher automatic imitation one year later. We discuss the latter findings in the context of an adaptive strategy. We argue that shy children may possess a heightened sensitivity to others' motor cues and therefore are more likely to implicitly imitate social partners' actions. This tendency may serve as a strategy to signal appeasement and affiliation, allowing for shy children to blend in and feel less inhibited in a social environment.
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