Walking in a park, you run into an old friend who recently had a baby girl. Once you see how cute she is, you would probably try to make her smile by waving  or playing peek-a-boo. However, according to a recent study from Lund University, your chances of making her smile are higher if you imitate her. 

Scientists have theorized that imitation allows infants to develop social skills by being more aware of themselves and others. However, it is unclear if imitation is even recognized or has any effects on infants 6 months of age or younger. To see whether these young infants can recognize imitation, a study led by Dr. Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc directly mirrored, reverse mirrored (infant raises left hand, experimenter raises left hand), mirrored emotionlessly, or did not mirror (infant does something, experimenter does something different) an infant’s reaction. Most mother-infant interactions fall into this last category. Surprisingly, this average interaction of ‘no mirroring’ resulted in less engagement and smiling from the infant compared to direct or reverse mirroring. Furthermore, emotionless mirroring also resulted in less engagement and smiling compared to the direct or reverse mirroring cases. This indicates that the infant can recognize both imitation at a higher level and facial expressions. 

Does this mean that when interacting with a baby, we should imitate more of their actions? Potentially, but not necessarily. This study has now provided evidence that young infants recognize and enjoy imitation, but is it beneficial in the long-run? Until more research is done, it is still unclear what this means exactly for infant-care and development. 

Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc is a Senior Research Scientist at Lund University and is has received an Ig Nobel for her work looking at how chimps in zoos also imitate visitors.

Managing Correspondent: Jenny Zheng

Press article: Babies know when you imitate them — and like it ScienceDaily

Original article: Imitation recognition and its prosocial effects in 6-month old infants PLoS One

Image Credit: Pixabay

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