The influence of role reversal imitation in different learning contexts on perspective-taking

Project Members: Franziska Krause, Katharina J. Rohlfing


Learning to use symbols in a communicative way requires more than mimicking an interlocutor. Beyond understanding to which entity a symbol refers to, toddlers need to realize that signs have a bidirectional character. Therefore, they have to switch roles in dialogue and address the symbol towards the communication partner in the same way as he did before - what is called role reversal imitation. But children not only learn from their caregivers directly, they also learn through observation. In dyadic learning contexts, a 1:1 communicative situation, children and their caregivers can focus jointly on actions and words which may help the children to acquire new contents. In contrast, in a triadic situation individuals gain linguistic and social knowledge just by observing others interacting with each other. From this bystander’s perspective toddlers learn more than symbols - they seem to acquire competence in social cognition, especially the ability to take another’s visual spatial perspective (Level 1 perspective-taking), which is seen as a fundamental precursor of Theory of Mind understanding.

Research question

In this project we are aiming to investigate the influence of triadic and dyadic learning contexts on perspective-taking in 18 month old toddlers and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We hypothesize that the triadic context is beneficial for childrens’ ability to take another person’s perspective. Further, we expect a facilitating effect of triadic over dyadic contexts on learning role reversal imitation.


Since toddlers are able to learn in triadic contexts from 18 months on, this age is an insightful starting point for investigation. Further, we include children with ASD as an experimental group based on their limited competence in perspective-taking tasks and role reversal imitation in dyadic settings. We train the subjects in two different learning contexts in a cross-sectional study before testing their ability of perspective-taking.