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According to researchers at Lund University, not only do babies know when we’re imitating them, they’re totally down with it!
Six-month-old babies can recognise when adults are imitating them, according to a new study out of Lund University Sweden—and it turns out they like it.
Infants looked and smiled longer at an adult who imitated them, as opposed to when the adult interacted with them in other ways. Babies also approached imitating adults more and attempted to engage in imitating games.
To carry out the study, researchers met 6-month old babies in their homes and played with them in four different ways. The researcher would either: imitate everything the baby did as a mirror, acted as a reverse mirror, imitated only the bodily actions of the baby while keeping a straight face, or respond with a completely different actioned when the babies acted. The latter is known as contingent responding as is how parents intuitively respond to their baby – when the baby does or need something, you react accordingly.
The researchers observed that the babies were much more positively receptive during the close mirroring of their 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’ behaviours”, says Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, a researcher at Lund University and main author of the study.
The research was concerned with the behaviour during imitation too. For example, if the baby hit the table and the researcher was to imitate that action, the baby would then hit the table several times, all while gauging the researcher’s responses.
The research was concerned with the behaviour during imitation too. For example, if the baby hit the table and the researcher was to imitate that action, the baby would then hit the table several times, all while gauging the researcher’s responses. Even when the researcher kept a poker face while imitating, the babies still seemed to recognise that they were being imitated, and still responded with testing actions.
“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 behaviour and the behaviour of the other”, Sauciuc says.
For a while now, scientists have speculated that, through frequent exposure and being imitated, babies absorb cultural norms and routines, and even that shared actions are tied to shared feelings and intentions. However, empirical evidence to back up such theories are largely missing.
“By showing that 6-month-old infants recognise 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 concludes.