Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Infants mimic unusual behavior when accompanied by language

Date:
November 12, 2012
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
A new study shows the power of language in infants' ability to understand the intentions of others.The results, based on two experiments, show that introducing a novel word for the impending novel event had a powerful effect on the infants' tendency to imitate the behavior. Infants were more likely to imitate behavior, however unconventional, if it had been named, than if it remained unnamed, the study shows.

Little girl turning on the light with a finger. Will a baby imitate an adult turning on a light with their forehead?
Credit: Aurum / Fotolia

A new Northwestern University study shows the power of language in infants' ability to understand the intentions of others.

As the babies watched intently, an experimenter produced an unusual behavior--she used her forehead to turn on a light. But how did babies interpret this behavior? Did they see it as an intentional act, as something worthy of imitating? Or did they see it as a fluke? To answer this question, the experimenter gave 14-month-old infants an opportunity to play with the light themselves.

The results, based on two experiments, show that introducing a novel word for the impending novel event had a powerful effect on the infants' tendency to imitate the behavior. Infants were more likely to imitate behavior, however unconventional, if it had been named, than if it remained unnamed, the study shows.

When the experimenter announced her unusual behavior ("I'm going to blick the light"), infants imitated her. But when she did not provide a name, they did not follow suit.

This revealed 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."

Waxman said 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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. The original article was written by Hilary Hurd Anyaso. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Chen ML, Waxman SR. "Shall We Blick?”: Novel Words Highlight Actors’ Underlying Intentions for 14-Month-Old Infants. Developmental Psychology, 2012 [link]

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Infants mimic unusual behavior when accompanied by language." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112135650.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2012, November 12). Infants mimic unusual behavior when accompanied by language. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112135650.htm
Northwestern University. "Infants mimic unusual behavior when accompanied by language." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112135650.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

Corporal Punishment on Decline, Debate Renews

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Corporal punishment in the United States is on the decline, but there is renewed debate over its use after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins