Contradicting parenting websites and books—and probably a bunch of overly proud new parents—researchers have concluded that infants in the first weeks of life actually don't imitate facial expressions or hand gestures. In fact, the study suggests that it's the adults who are imitating the babies, reports Australia's ABC. Over the past decades, some studies have suggested that infants imitate people, while others found no proof. "We wanted to clear up the confusion because the 'fact' that newborns imitate is widely cited ... in popular sources for parents," researcher Virginia Slaughter says in a press release. She says the problem with earlier studies is that they looked only at a few gestures, mostly just sticking out the tongue and opening the mouth.
"If infants also increase their tongue protrusions when an adult models a happy face or finger pointing, then it's not a case of imitation, but probably excitement at seeing an adult do something interesting," Slaughter says. "We eliminated this problem by assessing infants' responses to a wide range of different models." The new study, published Thursday, tested 11 gestures on 106 infants between 1 and 9 weeks old. What researchers call the "most comprehensive longitudinal study" of imitation in infants found no, well, imitation in infants. On the other hand, researchers found that parents imitate their baby every two minutes or so. (Playing with babies helps them learn to pay attention.)