Newborn infants imitate adult facial gestures

Child Dev. 1983 Jun;54(3):702-9.


Newborn infants ranging in age from 0.7 to 71 hours old were tested for their ability to imitate 2 adult facial gestures: mouth opening and tongue protrusion. Each subject acted as his or her own control in a repeated-measures design counterbalanced for order of stimulus presentation. The subjects were tested in low illumination using infrared-sensitive video equipment. The videotaped records were scored by an observer who was uninformed about the gesture shown to the infants. Both frequency and duration of neonatal mouth openings and tongue protrusions were tallied. The results showed that newborn infants can imitate both adult displays. 3 possible mechanisms underlying this early imitative behavior are suggested: instrumental or associative learning, innate releasing mechanisms, and active intermodal matching. It is argued that the data favor the third account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Infant, Newborn / psychology*
  • Kinesics*
  • Male