Researchers from Lund University in Sweden have found that 6-month old babies know when an adult imitates them- and that they like it. Their findings may help parents and caregivers quickly bond with infants.
For the study, a researcher met several 6-month old babies at their homes and played with them in different ways. In particular, the researcher imitated the babies' actions and expressions, imitated their bodily actions while keeping a neutral face, and responded with different actions. Typically, the researchers note, parents tend to react to their babies with a different follow-up action- usually when their baby needs or wants something.
After many interactions, the researchers found that the babies both tended to look and smile longer at them, the more they mimicked their actions. Curiously, the researchers also noted that the babies tended to test the researchers during imitation sessions. For example, a baby may bang a table and then observe the researcher's response. Next, the baby would hit the table more times and watch again for the researcher's response. Even when the researchers did not mimic the babies' facial expressions, they seemed to be satisfied as long as they repeated the action.
"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, lead author of the study.
These findings provide evidence for the long-held hypothesis that babies learn about cultural norms and routines by imitation. Until now, evidence for the theory was lacking.
"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," says Sauciuc.