This could be the reason why your little one might be cracking a smile.

By Kelly Vaughan
June 01, 2020
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There's nothing like hearing your baby laugh hysterically as you tickle their tummy or play peek-a-boo, but these aren't the only things you can do to get a little one to smile. A new study has found that six-month-old babies love to be copied. In fact, babies both understand when adults are imitating them and perceive their imitators as more friendly.

Artem Varnitsin/EyeEm/Getty Images

In the study, researchers met with six-month-old babies in their homes and imitated them in two different ways. The researchers either imitated everything the babies did exactly or imitated only the physical movements of the babies without changing their facial expressions. "Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them. The mothers were quite surprised to see their infants joyfully engaging in imitation games with a stranger, but also impressed by the infants' behaviors," says Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, a researcher at Lund University who is the main author of the study.

Babies were not only able to recognize and respond positively to adults who were imitating them, but they then repeated the behavior multiple times to try to receive another positive reaction from the adults. For example, when a baby hit a table and a researcher imitated that action, the baby then hit the table multiple times again.

So, what does this all mean for a baby's cognitive development? Researchers believe that this is an educational opportunity for babies to learn about cultural norms and shared feelings.

"By showing that six-month-old infants recognize when they are being imitated and that imitation has a positive effect on interaction, we begin to fill up this gap. We still have to find out when exactly imitation begins to have such effects, and what role imitation recognition actually plays for babies," said Sauciuc.

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