That new baby isn't imitating you

Have you ever played with a baby and think that the little one follows your reaction? According to a new study, babies don't imitate adults.

Babies are very adorable that adults can't help but play with them and the experience makes one feel good. For decades, there have been studies suggesting that human babies are capable of imitating facial gestures, hand gestures, facial expressions, or vocal sounds right from their first weeks of life after birth. But, based on new evidence, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology, now say that just isn't so.

When we interact with babies, we want to bring them into our world," said senior author Professor Virginia Slaughter, developmental psychologist at the University of Queensland. "We imitate them, and when we imitate them, this stimulates them to behave."

Slaughter claims that when adults continue to imitate a baby's reaction it results in a reciprocal interaction that appears imitation. However, the said reaction is driven by parents or adult's behavior rather than the baby copying it.

The international research team, led by Janine Oostenbroek, a psychologist at the University of York in the UK, exposed more than 100 infants to a broad range of gestures and recorded their responses at one, two, six and nine weeks of age. The gestures included social ones like adults poking their tongues out, frowning or grinning, as well as non-social cues such as pointing or opening a box.

"The results provided evidence against the view that certain human behaviours are innate," said Slaughter. The babies were just as likely to respond with a random gesture as they were to copy one.

"Human children in later stages do copy others actions, but the controversial assumption that this occurs from the moment of birth needs to be rethought," she said. The researchers say the limitation of previous studies involved them only testing the response to two gestures, tongue protrusion and mouth opening.

No additional gestures or expressions were made to see whether infants were truly imitating the adult's behaviour.

"If infants also increase their tongue protrusions when an adult models a happy face or finger pointing, then it's not a case of imitation, but probably excitement at seeing an adult do something interesting," said Prof Slaughter.

The researchers are now analyzing additional data from their longitudinal study, extending into the second year of life. They say they want to know when infants really do begin to imitate and what factors may contribute to the emergence of this skill.

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