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Infants emerge as picky imitators

By the age of 14 months, infants are masters of imitation. They mimic all sorts of behaviors, including laboratory antics such as touching one's forehead to a box that then lights up.

Babies on the brink of toddlerhood are not indiscriminate copycats, however. They sometimes opt for simpler ways to do what an adult shows them, signaling a budding capacity for evaluating the sensibility of others' behavior, according to a study in the Feb. 14 Nature.

György Gergely of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest and his colleagues studied 14 infants, all 14 months old, who watched a female experimenter perform the forehead-to-light-box trick under two conditions. In an initial series of trials, the woman pretended to be cold and executed the head action while her hands held a blanket around her. In a second set of trials, she performed the same head maneuver with no blanket, her hands resting next to the light box.

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