Babies Mimic Strange Behavior When Accompanied by Language
Infants are always eager to imitate. They love to imitate the sounds, facial expressions and action they observe. But what sort of action influences the infants to mimic them remained a mystery unless the researchers from the Northwestern University have really probed into this interesting aspect and come out with remarkable findings.
The experimenters tried a unique trick before an infant. She switched on the light with the help of her forehead. And she was curious to know how the infants interpreted this behavior. Did the infants consider it as an intentional act or something worth imitating.
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The new study that focuses on the power of language in infant's ability to understand the intentions of others state that Infants were more likely to imitate behavior, however unconventional, if it had been named, than if it remained unnamed. This was explained by an experiment where the experimenter gave 14-month-old infants an opportunity to play with the light themselves.
She wanted to check whether introducing a novel word for the impending novel event had a powerful effect on the infants' tendency to imitate the behavior. When the experimenter announced her unusual behavior as "I'm going to blick the light", she noticed that her actions were imitated by infants.
The same was absent when she did not provide any name for her action. With this experiment it was clear that infants as young as 14 months of age coordinate their insights about human behavior and their intuitions about human language in the service of discovering which behaviors, observed in others, are ones to imitate.
"This work shows, for the first time, that even for infants who have only just begun to 'crack the language code,' language promotes culturally-shared knowledge and actions -- naturally, generatively and apparently effortlessly," said Sandra R. Waxman, co-author of the study and the Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology at Northwestern. "This is the first demonstration of how infants' keen observational skills, when augmented by human language, heighten their acuity for 'reading' the underlying intentions of their 'tutors' (adults) and foster infants' imitation of adults' actions."
But Waxman also stated that absent language and its power in conveying meaning, infants don't imitate these "strange" actions. "This means that human language provides infants with a powerful key: it unlocks for them a broader world of social intentions," Waxman said. "We know that language, and especially the shared meaning within a linguistic community, is one of the most powerful conduits of the cultural knowledge that we humans transmit across generations."