Previous studies have suggested that babies can imitate adults even before they turn a month old. Now, in the largest study of its kind, researchers say there is no evidence that that’s true.

Why it matters:

Previous studies found that new babies were capable of imitation, and the conclusions from these studies have influenced our current understanding of human development, psychology, neuroscience, and pediatrics. The new results will “prompt revision of a number of influential theories” about social cognition, the study authors wrote.

The nitty gritty:

A researcher demonstrated for 106 healthy infants a series of nine different facial gestures, expressions, and sounds — such as sticking out the tongue, a happy face, or an “mmm” sound — and two inanimate objects that moved. They repeated the tests at 1, 3, 6, and 9 weeks old. They found that the babies’ responses were pretty much random — for instance, they were just as likely to stick their tongue out at an adult doing the same as at a person making a sad face. Across all gestures, babies did not produce a matching response reliably enough to conclude that they could actually imitate what they were being shown. The study was published Thursday in Current Biology.

advertisement

What they’re saying:

“This study is important because it kind of reinforces the message that really very early in life what babies do is still pretty random,” said Gordon Ramsay, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. “It’s simply a reflexive response to the world. That’s important, but it’s not yet deliberate imitation.”

You’ll want to know:

Researchers say infants develop the ability to imitate during the second half of their first year of life, mostly between 6 and 8 months of age. It’s important to have regular checkups with a pediatrician to track a baby’s growth, especially if you are concerned about this developmental milestone.

The bottom line:

It’s important that new parents continue to interact with their babies at every point in their lives, because social interaction is important for learning and development, but don’t worry if the new baby doesn’t mimic your actions right away.

Newsletters

Sign up for our Daily Recap newsletter

Please enter a valid email address.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

Sign up for our Daily Recap newsletter

A roundup of STAT’s top stories of the day in science and medicine

Privacy Policy