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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 36: Deferred Imitation

Baby’s Brain in Week 36

Games that involve mimicking— à la “Pat-a-Cake”—are probably among your baby’s favorites right now. The “sticking-out-my-tongue game” may have been popular immediately post-birth, but by now your baby mimics other facial expressions as well: eye blinking, lip smacking, and raspberries, to name a few.

Have you noticed that your baby may wait a few hours or even a day to mimic a behavior? Perhaps you hammer a nail in front of your nine-month-old and the next day you notice that he’s banging his little wooden hammer? If so, he sure is copying what you demonstrated yesterday; researchers call this “deferred imitation.”

What the Research Shows

In one experiment, a researcher demonstrated three simple actions to nine-month-olds. First, he took a small board attached in an upright position to a base by a hinge and pushed it until it lay flat on its base; then he pushed a black button that sounded a buzzer; and then he rattled an orange plastic egg with nuts and bolts inside.

After watching the researcher do these things, the babies were taken home. The next day they were brought back to the laboratory. The board, the buzzer, and the plastic egg were brought out. Although the babies had never themselves used these items, most of them imitated one or more of the actions that they had seen the researcher perform the day before. They recognized the items, had recalled their use, and proved it by copying the researcher’s actions. Triumph!

Week 36 Brain Booster

Want your baby to use a tissue to wipe his nose? Hope your child learns to put his napkin on his lap? Insist your child wears a bicycle helmet once he learns to ride a bike? Expect that your child read every day? You know the parenting drill by now: Allow your child to see you exhibit these desired skills. Your baby learns most efficiently by watching you, plus it overrides all other forms of learning—and your presence will become even more crucial to her habits later. If you don’t wear a bicycle helmet and tell your child to do so, he may do as you say right then but later when on his own, he may copy you by not wearing his helmet. Call it deferred imitation!

Your Week 36 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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