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.