If you think about it, we learn a lot through imitation. We copy others when learning to play an instrument or a new sport. We follow the actions of locals when we’re traveling abroad or when we’re in an unfamiliar environment. We use imitation to adapt to social and cultural norms and connect with the people in our communities. In fact, studies show that we even subconsciously imitate the people we really like and we really like people who imitate us! Mimicking the actions of others has helped the human race evolve and prosper for centuries.
Because the imitation game is so powerful, researchers wanted to know more about the role imitation plays in the first year of life. Previous studies have shown the power of babies imitating us. Now, a new study conducted by Lund University in Sweden shows that babies know when we’re imitating them, and it turns out, …they love it!
Summary of the Study
The researchers conducting this experiment went into the homes of 6-month old babies to test how they would react to four different behaviors. The researchers would:
- Imitate everything the babies did as a mirror
- As a reverse mirror
- Only imitate the bodily actions of the babies while keeping an immobile face
- Respond with a different action when the babies acted
The results showed that the babies responded the most when researchers imitated their every move as a mirror reflection. And these were positive responses too! The babies made more direct eye contact and smiled for longer periods of time when they were being imitated. Once they realized their action was being copied (for example, banging on a table), they would continue the action over and over again to get the researcher to play along.
In addition, the babies consistently tried to approach the adult imitating them. Parents and caregivers found this specific response truly fascinating, especially because the researcher was a stranger to their child. “Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them,” says Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, researcher at Lund University and main author of the study. Overall, the babies had a distinct ability to recognize when the researcher was mirroring them, and this imitation was a path to connection.
Takeaways from the Study
The results of this study emphasize the positive role of mimicry in growth and development. We already knew that babies imitating us was a good thing, and now we can see how grown-ups imitating babies also has its rewards. Imitating babies is an important aspect of the back-and-forth interactions that spark brain connection. It can help us bond, build trust, keep babies engaged, and boost stimulation and learning.
The next time you see your baby bang on the table, give them the gift of imitation. A quick game of Copy Cat can go a long way!
And why stop with babies? You can have fun playing imitation games with your toddler, too.