Babies recognise when adults imitate them and perceive imitators as more friendly

July 1, 2020

Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them, researchers from Lund University, Sweden, observe after meeting and playing together with 6-month old babies in their homes for a time. The babies would look and smile longer at a stranger who imitated them, approached them more, and also engaged in imitating games.

During playtime, the stranger (researcher) either imitated everything the babies did as a mirror, or as a reverse mirror, imitated only the bodily actions of the babies while keeping an immobile face, or responded with different actions to the babies’ own. The researchers found that the babies looked and smiled longer, and tried to approach the stranger more often, during the close mirroring of their actions.

There was also much testing behavior during imitation. For example, if the baby hit the table and the stranger imitated that action, the baby would then hit the table several times while carefully watching the stranger’s responses. The babies used this same behaviour even when the stranger did not show any emotions at all while imitating.

“The mothers were quite surprised to see their infants joyfully engaging in imitation games with a stranger, but also impressed by the infants’ behaviours,” said researcher Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc. “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.”

It has been speculated that, through frequent exposure to being imitated, babies learn about cultural norms and interactional routines – essentially the understanding that shared actions are accompanied by shared feelings and intentions.


Category: Education, Features

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