Neonatal participation in neonatal imitation: narrative in newborn dialogues

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Since the publication of Meltzoff and Moore's seminal paper, neonatal imitation has been discussed, debated, and scrutinised at considerable length. Despite this, the temporal structure within which the interaction sits, has received limited attention. We hypothesise that underlying successful examples of neonatal imitation exists a narrative temporal structure, expressed and perceived not only through vocalisations but also (if not primarily) through movement. We contextualise neonatal imitation through a communicative lens, viewing the phenomenon as an early dialogue between adult and infant, underpinned by the same narrative structure as other "proto-conversations"in infancy. From this perspective, several of the leading and traditional theories that have been proposed to explain neonatal imitation are considered. Ultimately, we argue neonatal imitation is an innately dialogical phenomenon that forms one of the first examples of primary intersubjectivity, exemplifying the importance of the neonatal period in human psychological and social development. On this basis we propose further study is required into the temporal structure underlying neonatal imitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-153
Number of pages19
JournalHuman Development
Issue number3
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • neonatal imitation
  • narrative
  • social cognition
  • infant development
  • primary intersubjectivity


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