Babies recognize when adults imitate them according to new research

Babies recognize when adults imitate them according to new research
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Babies recognize when adults imitate them according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden. Infants also find imitators more friendly.

Findings showed that six-month old infants see imitators as more friendly, as opposed to when the adult communicated with them in other ways. The study, published in PLOS One, suggested that babies leaned toward imitators more and engaged in imitating games.

A researcher observed six-month old babies in their houses and interacted with them in four different ways.

The researcher either imitated what babies did like mirror, or as a reverse mirror, did only the bodily actions of the babies while showing a steady countenance, or showed a different action when the babies acted. The latter is known as contingent responding, which is how most parents would engage their baby especially when the baby is expressing something like their needs and they react accordingly.

Based on the study titled “Imitation recognition and its prosocial effects in 6-month old infants,” the babies looked and smiled longer at the imitators. They also approached their imitators more often, during the close mirroring of actions.


“Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them. The mothers were quite surprised to see their infants joyfully engaging in imitation games with a stranger, but also impressed by the infants’ behaviors,” says Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, researcher at Lund University and lead author of the study.

The study also found that if the baby hit the table and the researcher did the same, the baby would then repeat the action, while monitoring the imitator’s responses.

Even when the researcher was emotionless while imitating, the babies still appeared to notice that they were being imitated and still acted with testing behavior.

“This was quite interesting. When someone actively tests the person who is imitating them, it is usually seen as an indication that the imitated individual is aware that there is a correspondence between their own behavior and the behavior of the other,” Sauciuc says.

“By showing that 6-month-old infants recognize when they are being imitated, and that imitation has a positive effect on interaction, we begin to fill up this gap. We still have to find out when exactly imitation begins to have such effects, and what role imitation recognition actually plays for babies,” Sauciuc said.

Babies’ altruism

Meanwhile, another study suggested that babies show early signs of altruism. The researchers discovered this when babies gave up their food despite being hungry to adults who appear to want it too.

The study, which examined the beginnings of altruism in humans, showed how hungry babies were willing to give up food and give them away. The researchers studied almost 100 babies who were 19 months old.

Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, said the babies “looked longingly at the fruit, and then they gave it away! We think this captures a kind of baby-sized version of altruistic helping.”

Meltzoff and his team chose babies who were 19 months old because it was the age when many babies are starting to have temper tantrums, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians.