Contrary to popular belief, babies under a few months don't grin at you because they're copying your own smile, according to new research. Many studies have indicated that from birth, infants imitate the behaviors and facial expressions of the adults around them. However, a team of Australian, South African and British researchers have released a study this week that refutes this widespread belief. "Numerous studies from the 1980s and 90s indicated no imitation by newborns, while others claimed it was there," says Virginia Slaughter, a biologist at the University of Queensland and co-author of the study. "We wanted to clear up the confusion because the 'fact' that newborns imitate is widely cited, not just in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and paediatrics, but also in popular sources for parents.’ The international research team, led by Janine Oostenbroek, a psychologist at the University of York in the UK, exposed more than 100 infants to a broad range of gestures and recorded their responses at one, two, six and nine weeks of age. The gestures included social cues like adults poking their tongues out, frowning or grinning, as well as non-social cues such as pointing or opening a box. The findings showed no link between behaviors exhibited by babies in their first few months and the gestures they were exposed to. The babies were just as likely to exhibit gestures they had never seen before as repeat ones they had. For instance, babies stuck their tongues out just as frequently if they were being exposed to pointing or opening a box, rather than anything to do with mouths or tongues.
Previously, many studies have shown that infants may try to copy the behaviors and facial expression of the adults around them, but the new study indicates no imitation, suggesting that there is no link between behaviors exhibited by babies and the gestures they are exposed to. (46 words)