Babies choose not to learn from those they perceive as unreliable, according to a new Canadian study published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development.
“Like older children, infants keep track of an individual’s history of being accurate or inaccurate and use this information to guide their subsequent learning,” says researcher Diane Poulin-Dubois, a researcher at Concordia University’s department of psychology.
In the study, experimenters looked inside a container while expressing excitement – and invited infants between 13 and 16 months to discover its contents. The container either contained a toy or was empty. Then, experimenters used their forehead to push a light switch, hoping the child would mimic their behavior.
About 61 percent of babies who discovered toys in the container – indicating the experimenter’s communication was reliable – then imitated the light-pushing behavior. However, just 34 percent of babies whose experimenters led them to an empty container mimicked the push-light behavior.
“This shows infants will imitate behavior from a reliable adult,” says study co-author and Ph.D. study Ivy Brooker. “In contrast, the same behavior performed by an unreliable adult is interpreted as irrational or inefficient, therefore not worth imitating.”