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Dr. Meltzoff's research encompasses three major themes: developing new theoretical models of mental development; studying early learning and the brain, including memory, imitation, and nonverbal social cognition; and applying theory and experimental measures from studies of typical development to children with autism and Down syndrome.
Meltzoff’s current projects focus on understanding infants' developing notions of others as psychological beings with underlying goals and intentions, and of the correspondences between themselves and others. This work includes an investigation of the origin, scope, and nature of deferred imitation, which entails infants observing adult action, then reproducing that action after a delay, based on memory. Meltzoff has used novel infant EEG measures to explore the neural mechanisms underlying human imitation and the ontogenesis of the body image. Meltzoff also is developing new paradigms for studying gaze-following in infants, and the relation between gaze-following and later development. In related work, he has developed a new assessment procedure to investigate perceptual cues that lead infants to construe human actions as intentional. Other work examines the developmental sequelae of early social cognition—What aspects of early functioning predict language development or later theory of mind? In collaboration with computer scientists, Meltzoff tests theories of psychological development using ‘social robots’ and computational models. Meltzoff’s research is designed to immediately apply the basic discoveries made on typically developing children to studies of children with autism and children with Down syndrome. The goal of this interdisciplinary collaborative work is to deepen understanding of the mechanisms of development and open up new possibilities for early diagnosis and treatment.
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