A group of researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered that six-month-old infants find imitating gestures friendly. Babies tend to smile and look longer at an adult who imitated them. Furthermore, the researchers found that babies engage more in mimicking games.
To conduct the study, the researchers did home studies where they played and interacted with six-month-old babies. The researcher either mirrored the actions of the baby, acted as a reverse mirror, imitated only their movements without facial expressions, or responded with a completely different action.
The latter is also called "contingent responding", which is how most parents would answer to their babies. Usually, when a baby needs or does something, the parent reacts correspondingly.
Moreover, the authors of the study found that when they mirrored the babies' actions, they looked and smiled longer. They also tended to approach the adult more often.
Scientists have long thought that babies learn about cultural norms and interactional routines through imitation. Additionally, shared actions are followed by shared intentions and feelings.
The researchers say that their paper could contribute to further understanding babies and their behavior. However, further studies need to be conducted to find out exactly at what age recognition of imitation begins and what role it has for babies. The findings of the study were published this month in the journal PLOS ONE.
Monkey See Monkey Do
According to Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, the leader of the study, copying the actions of babies seems to be an efficient way to catch their interest and bond with them. She said that the mothers of the babies were quite astonished to see their infants happily participating in imitation games with a complete stranger. They also said they were impressed by their baby's behaviors.
The researchers also noticed the infants displaying testing behavior. For instance, after the researcher copies the baby hitting the table, the infant would again hit the table several times to anticipate the researcher's responses.
Additionally, it did not seem to matter to the infants, whether the adult engaging with them showed any emotions or not. The babies still seemed to recognize that they were being imitated despite the researchers keeping a neutral face. Furthermore, the babies still responded the same way.
Sauciuc finds it fascinating how babies acknowledge that they are being imitated and correspond according to the behavior shown to them.
How to Interact with Babies
According to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, babies are born to be social and yearn to interact with people. The hospital says that by paying attention and responding to your baby, it can promote parent-infant bonding and contribute to the baby's emotional wellbeing.
The hospital advises reading books and telling stories to babies to engage their senses. Experts say it is never too early to start reading to babies. Some specialists even recommend reading to babies while still in the womb.
Making up sounds even if they don't mean anything and seem silly could also be lots of fun for little ones. Some pediatricians also advise responding to babies when they "tell" you something even if the sounds are unintelligible. By leaving a pause after responding, the baby might pick up the cue that it's their turn to say something back, experts say.
Finally, playing simple games such as tickling, peek-a-book, counting toes, or blowing raspberries are also useful approaches to keep their little minds going and those smiles coming.