Infants Quickly Learn to Ignore Unreliable and Silly People

Chil­dren learn a lot from imit­at­ing the actions of adults, with recent research sug­gest­ing that infants as young as 14 months are select­ive imit­at­ors – tak­ing cues from our beha­viour in order to decide which of us adults to learn from and which to ignore.

In a study where research­ers expressed delight before either present­ing an infant with a toy (the reli­able con­di­tion) or not present­ing the infant with a toy (the unre­li­able con­di­tion), they dis­covered that infants detect “unre­li­able” people and choose not to learn from then, opt­ing instead for adults that appear con­fid­ent and know­ledge­able – the reli­able group.

“Infants seem to per­ceive reli­able adults as cap­able of ration­al action, whose nov­el, unfa­mil­i­ar beha­viour is worth imit­at­ing,” the research­ers said. “In con­trast, the same beha­viour per­formed by a pre­vi­ously unre­li­able adult is inter­preted as irra­tion­al or inef­fi­cient, thus not worthy of imit­at­ing.” […]

The new find­ing adds to a grow­ing body of research show­ing children’s selectiv­ity in who they choose to learn from. For example, chil­dren prefer to learn from adults as opposed to their peers, and they prefer to learn from people they are famil­i­ar with and who appear more cer­tain, con­fid­ent and know­ledge­able.