Babies imitate other people to learn how to do things, and now
researchers say they've pinpointed just how infants' brains work during
Copying others is a vital learning tool for
babies, who often will observe how other people do things for example,
guiding a spoon to the mouth and then imitate those body movements.
study is the first to identify specific brain activation patterns in
babies when watching an adult perform tasks with different parts of the
body, according to the authors of the study, which was published online in the journal PLoS One.
infants were fitted with caps with embedded sensors that detected brain
activity in regions of the cortex that respond to movement or touch of
the feet and hands. The babies sat on a parent's lap and watched as a
researcher touched a toy placed on a low table between the baby and the
When the researcher used her hand to touch the toy,
the hand area of the infants' brains showed increased activity. When the
researcher used her foot to touch the toy, the foot area of the
infants' brains showed increased activity.
Careful people watchers
exquisitely careful people-watchers, and they're primed to learn from
others," study co-author Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the Institute
for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, said in
a university news release. "Now we see that when babies watch someone
else, it activates their own brains. This study is a first step in
understanding the neuroscience of how babies learn through imitation."
reason this is exciting is that it gives insight into a crucial aspect
of imitation," study co-author Peter Marshall, an associate psychology
professor at Temple University, said in the news release.
imitate the action of another person, babies first need to register what
body part the other person used," Marshall said. "Our findings suggest
that babies do this in a particular way by mapping the actions of the
other person onto their own body."
Zero to Three has more about infants' brain development.