Babies know when you imitate them – and like it

By 21 - Published 22 June 2020

Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, Jagoda Zlakowska, Tomas Persson, Sara Lenninger and Elainie Alenkaer Madsen have received large attention about their new study showing that infants both recognise when adults imitate them, and perceive imitators as more friendly. The study (published in PLoS ONE) is addressed in (among others) Science Daily, SR Vetenskapsradion, Daily Mail, Martha Stewart and The Science Times.
Abstract The experience of being imitated is theorised to be a driving force of infant social cognition, yet evidence on the emergence of imitation recognition and the effects of imitation in early infancy is disproportionately scarce. To address this lack of empirical evidence, in a within-subjects study we compared the responses of 6-month old infants when exposed to ipsilateral imitation as opposed to non-imitative contingent responding. To examine mediating mechanisms of imitation recognition, infants were also exposed to contralateral imitation and bodily imitation with suppressed emotional mimicry. We found that testing behaviours—the hallmark of high-level imitation recognition—occurred at significantly higher rates in each of the imitation conditions compared to the contingent responding condition. Moreover, when being imitated, infants showed higher levels of attention, smiling and approach behaviours compared to the contingent responding condition. The suppression of emotional mimicry moderated these results, leading to a decrease in all social responsiveness measures. The results show that imitation engenders prosocial effects in 6-month old infants and that infants at this age reliably show evidence of implicit and high-level imitation recognition. In turn, the latter can be indicative of infants’ sensitivity to others’ intentions directed toward them. Article: Sauciuc, G-A.,Zlakowska, J.,Persson, T.,Lenninger, S.,Alenkaer Madsen, E. (2020). Imitation recognition and its prosocial effects in 6-month old infants. PLoS ONE, 15(5): e0232717. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0232717