The "Like-Me" Theory for Connecting Self and Others
This talk describes new research on the origins of ‘social cognition’—the mechanisms by which infants come to understand other people and interpret their actions and intentions before language. Typically developing children learn quickly and easily from observing the actions performed by others. This is supported by two key building blocks—imitation and gaze following—that are operative in early infancy, rare in the animal kingdom, and impaired in children with autism spectrum disorders. I unite imitation and gaze following under a theoretical ‘Like-Me’ developmental framework (Meltzoff, 2007). This framework holds that infants at first recognize that other people are ‘like me’ in behavioral actions and from this foundation gradually develop the idea that others are ‘like me’ in their internal mental states (theory of mind). I will show how this developmental framework helps illuminate the origins of one of the most treasured aspects of our mental life—our powerful ability and motivation to learn from other people—and will discuss implications for understanding children with autism spectrum disorders.