Fourteen- to 18-month-old infants differentially imitate intentional and accidental actions

M Carpenter*, N Akhtar, M Tomasello

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

536 Citations (Scopus)


This study explored infants' ability to discriminate between, and their tendency to reproduce, the accidental and intentional actions of others. Twenty 14- through 18-month-olds watched an adult perform a series of two-step actions on objects that made interesting results occur. Some of the modeled actions were marked vocally as intentional ("There!"), some were marked vocally as accidental ("Woops!"). Following each demonstration, infants were given a chance to make the result occur themselves. Overall, infants imitated almost twice as many of the adult's intentional actions as her accidental ones. infants before age 18 months thus may understand something about the intentions of other persons. This understanding represent; infants' first step toward adult-like social cognition and underlies their acquisition of language and other cultural skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-330
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • imitation
  • accident
  • intention
  • understanding of intentions


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