Infant Behavior Is More Than Mimicry

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 13, 2002 -- Infants are more than just masters of mimicry. A new study shows that they are rational, thinking, little human beings with the ability to make sensible choices -- at least sometimes.

Researchers from the Netherlands had a group of 14-month-old infants watch an adult perform a particular task. The adult turned on a tap-on table light -- but with her forehead. Sometimes her hands were in clear view. But at other times, her hands and arms were hidden by a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.

Most of the infants who watched the adult turn on the light with her forehead while her hands were hidden decided that was silly. They determined it made more sense to turn the light on with their hand.

But when the adult's hands were in clear view, the babies imitated the adult and turned the light on with their forehead.

Lead researcher Gyorgy Gergely and colleagues suspect that when the adult's hands were hidden, the infants decided it was impractical to use their foreheads when their own hands were free. But when the adult's hands were in clear view, the babies decided that since the adult could have used her hands and didn't, then the forehead approach must offer some advantage.

So, infants -- even those just over a year old -- are able to make rational decisions based on what they think makes sense.

Could the findings provide a clue about how to get babies and kids to listen? Well, the trick seems to be making them think they stand to benefit from whatever it is you want them to do.