Babies are really smart – they know exactly when you copy what they do, plus they can tell if you’re being friendly when you do, according to a new study.
In fact, Swedish research, published in Plos One, suggests that a baby’s favourite way of engaging with an adult is by playing the copy-cat game with him. They found that when they mirrored the babies’ actions, they looked and smiled at them for longer, and also tried to approach them more often.
In the study, researchers met with babies aged between five and six-months-old in their home and played with them in different ways. They found that the babies looked and smiled at them longer, and tried to approach them more often the more closely they mirrored their actions.
The babies also responded to “testing behaviour”. For example, when the baby hit the table and the researcher imitated that action, the baby would respond by hitting the table several times while carefully watching the researcher’s responses.
“Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them,” says lead author Professor Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, a researcher at Lund University in her report.
“The mothers were quite surprised to see their infants joyfully engaging in imitation games with a stranger, but also impressed by their infants’ behaviours.”
Scientists have long speculated that by engaging with babies in this way, they learn about cultural norms and routines, plus how to interact with another human. But the evidence has been sketchy.
“By showing that six-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,” Professor Sauciuc says.
The researchers now want to find out when exactly imitation begins to have such effects, and what role imitation recognition actually plays for babies.
Content editor and writer on Living & Loving, Sonya has over 25 years experience in the media industry. She edited Living & Loving magazine for six-and-a-half years and is the former editor of Longevity magazine. She’s won numerous media industry awards and is passionate about the health and wellbeing of moms and children.
Outside of work, she enjoys trying out recipes, reading crime mysteries and thrillers, practicing yoga, and exploring new destinations.
Learn more about Sonya Naudé.