The Use of Imitation in
aka: modeling, observational learning
Any physical movement that serves as a novel model,
that is similar to model, and follows occurrence of model
Imitative behavior is new behavior emitted following
Why’s it important?
Imitation occurs immediately after a response.
A delayed behavior is not an imitation.
Delayed responses are a learned behavior, not an
A child may imitate to learn how to ride a bike. But, any
time after that he is not imitating the riding behavior, he
has learned how to ride.
Children Learn Through
Most of children’s important physical development
milestones occur through modeling.
Children observe parents performing novel events
Children attempt to imitate parents actions
Successful completion earns them praise (positive
Imitation now becomes differentially reinforced (parents
reinforce all actions that resemble event being imitated)
Shaping and Chaining Use
Shaping and chaining are two methods that teach
children to perform novel task, using differential
Shaping-Producing a behavior through a series of successful
approximations that resemble behavior being taught
Chaining- Procedures that teach behavior chains
Shaping is used to teach smaller units that lead to a large
behavior chain. But how is imitation used?
Shaping, Chaining, & Imitation
Imitation is used to present novel model of behavior.
The big picture: Behavior chains are made up of different
classes of actions. Each class is shaped, which sometimes
uses imitation to model each small approximate unit until
it resembles terminal (final) behavior.
What if your child cannot
Developmentally disabled children and infants cannot, or
do not, imitate.
What’s this mean?
Without an imitative repertoire, they have difficulty with
anything beyond basic skills.
When this happens we use IMITATION TRAINING
In imitation training it is not important what behavior is
being modeled. Only important the person learns to
imitate the behavior of the modeler.
Taking the emphasize off of behavior we are attempting
to enable the children to generalize the behavior of
(Generalize- what is learned or reinforced is applicable in all
settings, and across all behavior classes)
Imitation Training Guidelines
Brief and Active Sessions
Multiple times daily
Only a few seconds between trials
Reinforce Imitative and Prompted Responses
No matter whether it was a prompted or imitated
response, reinforce all instances of imitative behavior that
occurred 3 to 5s after model
Pair Tangible Reinforcer with Verbal Praise/Attention
When reinforcing imitative behaviors, pair the tangible
reinforcer presented with praise or attention
Children more likely to participate in training when followed
by preferred activity
Progress breaks down, back up and move ahead slowly
When progress breaks down, move to the last successful
step. When the last step is achieved move ahead slowly.
Break downs occur because of satiation, distractions, or to
Fade Prompts and Physical Guidance
Throughout most of the training you will be using verbal
prompts, and possible physical guidance to assist in mastery
of a step.
Now is the time to fade those out.
Slowly remove the prompts/guidance.
Goal is for the child to imitate task on their own.
When imitation begins to occur without any prompts, it is
time to stop the training.
Hopefully, with successful training, children will imitate on
their own, and develop skills far beyond a basic level.
Imitative Behavior vs.
Now is a good time to discuss the difference between an
imitative behavior and a controlling response
These behaviors are very similar and are often times
A controlling response is a behavior that is evoked that is
similar to the behavior of the model, but not the same.
An imitative behavior must follow immediately after and
be a complete replication of model’s behavior.
It is not imitation if it does not follow the behavior of the
If it occurs in the absence of the model it is not imitative
behavior, it is a learned response.
Imitative behavior accounts for how children learn to do
almost everything. If not properly modeled difficulties
may arise that could lead to difficulties developing an
appropriate imitative repertoire.
How children use imitation
When learning to speak children imitate sounds that
parents and caregivers make. Doing so allows them to
develop and expand their vocabulary.
Children learn to smile, clap their hands, and make silly
faces by observing the actions of their mothers and fathers.
In closing, take a look at the following video of possibly
the cutest baby ever and decide, imitation or not?
Berk, L., (2008). Infants, Children, and Adolescents. 6th
edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., Heward, W.L., (2007).
Applied Behavior Analysis. 2nd
edition. Upper Saddle
River, NJ.: Pearson Education, Inc.