New research from Concordia University in Montreal has found that infants can differentiate between adults they can trust and those they can’t.
“Like older children, infants keep track of an individual’s history of being accurate or inaccurate and use this information to guide their subsequent learning,” said Diane Poulin-Dubois, Ph.D., a professor in the Concordia Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development.
“Specifically, infants choose not to learn from someone who they perceive as unreliable.”
A group of 60 infants, aged 13 to 16 months, were tested as part of the study, which was recently published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development. Babies were divided in two groups — one with “reliable” adults and another with “unreliable” adults.
In the first task, researchers expressed excitement while looking inside a container, then invited infants to discover whether the box actually contained a toy or was empty. This task was designed to establish the experimenter’s credibility, researchers explain.
In a second task, the same researcher used her forehead instead of her hands to turn on a push-on light. She then observed whether infants would follow suit.
Only 34 percent of infants whose testers were unreliable followed suit. By contrast, 61 percent of infants in the reliable group imitated the researcher.
“This shows infants will imitate behavior from a reliable adult,” said Ivy Brooker, a Ph.D. student in the Concordia Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development.
“In contrast, the same behavior performed by an unreliable adult is interpreted as irrational or inefficient, therefore not worth imitating.”
These results add to a growing body of research that suggests that even infants are adept at detecting who’s reliable and who is not, researchers claim.