Imitation recognition and its prosocial effects in 6-month old infants

Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, Jagoda Zlakowska, Tomas Persson, Sara Lenninger, Elainie Madsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The experience of being imitated is theorised to be a driving force of infant social cognition, yet evidence on the emergence of imitation recognition and the effects of imitation in early infancy is disproportionately scarce. To address this lack of empirical evidence, in a within-subjects study we compared the responses of 6-month old infants when exposed to ipsilateral imitation as opposed to non-imitative contingent responding. To examine mediating mechanisms of imitation recognition, infants were exposed to two additional conditions: contralateral imitation and bodily imitation with suppressed emotional mimicry. We found that testing behaviours - the hallmark of high-level imitation recognition - occurred at significantly higher rates in each of the imitation conditions compared to the contingent responding condition. Moreover, when being imitated, infants showed higher levels of attention, smiling and approach behaviours compared to the contingent responding condition. The suppression of emotional mimicry moderated some of these results, leading to a decrease in smiling and approach behaviours. The results show that imitation engenders prosocial effects in 6-month old infants and that infants at this age reliably show evidence of implicit and high-level imitation recognition. In turn, the latter is indicative of a sensitivity to others’ embodied intentions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0232717
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May 20

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
  • Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)


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