Understanding "prior intentions" enables two-year-olds to imitatively learn a complex task

Malinda Carpenter, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigated children's understanding of others' intentions in a social learning context. Specifically, it investigated whether knowing an adult's prior intention before the adult gives a demonstration influences what children learn from the demonstration. In the five main experimental conditions, ninety-six 2-year-old children watched as an experimenter (E) pulled out a pin and opened the door of a box. Children in two No Prior Intention conditions saw this demonstration alone or paired with an irrelevant action. Children in three Prior Intention conditions knew what E was trying to do before the demonstration: they first saw E either attempt unsuccessfully to open the door, or visit and open several other containers, or they first saw that the door opened. Children opened the box themselves more often in each of these three conditions than in the two No Prior Intention conditions, even though children in all five conditions saw the exact same demonstration of how to open the box.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1431-1441
Number of pages11
JournalChild Development
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002


  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Intention
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Videotape Recording


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