2020 William James Fellow

Andrew N. Meltzoff

University of Washington

Andrew Meltzoff’s landmark studies in infant development helped reconfigure our understanding of preverbal cognition.

Meltzoff demonstrated imitation in early infancy and proposed it as a powerful social learning mechanism by which infants begin to acquire the behaviors, skills, and norms of their culture. Through a set of classic studies, Meltzoff made key discoveries concerning the nature and functions of imitation in childhood. He used these findings to develop an influential theory of infant development, which described an intrinsic linkage between the perception and production of human action. Meltzoff’s “like-me” framework, which holds that human infants gain a foothold in the social world through perceived similarity between the bodily acts of self and others, led to further advances. He leveraged “like me” to connect infant social understanding to broad social phenomena such as the development of in-group biases and stereotyping in children.

Recently, Meltzoff has used neuroscience methods to investigate the neural representation of the developing body schema and the neurobiological bases of perception–action coupling in infancy. Meltzoff’s pivotal findings have transformed theories in developmental psychology. The “like-me” framework has become a powerful tool for addressing questions about children’s development and learning. Furthermore, Meltzoff’s innovative experiments have influenced scholars in diverse disciplines including evolutionary biology, robotics, philosophy of mind, and clinical science research on autism.

Meltzoff is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.