Parents that play with their infant children have assumed for centuries that the hand movements and gestures the children make are an imitation of the doting parents. A new study conducted by Virginia Slaughter of the University of Queensland in Australia has shown that infants do not have the mental capacity for imitation. The study that settled a 36 year argument among child psychologists and parents.
The researchers examined the behavior of 106 infants to a series of social and nonsocial events. The infants showed as much likelihood to imitate a gesture or motion produced by an adult or parent as they did not. All of the children in the study were less than two months old. All of the children in the study showed as much likelihood to imitate a gesture made by a parent as they did to produce a completely different gesture or behavior.
The researchers expected the children to be capable of imitation based on previous studies but no evidence of imitation was found. The previous studies were limited in the fact that the research only analyzed an infant poking out their tongue in response to a parent poking their tongue out. The new study incorporated multiple gestures.
The study shows that humans are not born with an innate capacity to imitate another person. The imitation behavior is a learned response that begins after a child is two months of age. Parents interpreted a child’s behavior as imitation when it was actually a means that the child used to distinguish between different people.