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The Neuroscience Behind Adorable Baby Imitations Is Surprisingly Complex

Science has long since established that it’s hilarious when your kid imitates you, but researchers at the University Of Washington have just revealed some of the neurology behind the hilarity. In the cover story for this month’s Trends In Cognitive Sciences, they reveal evidence that babies as young as 7 months have sophisticated “body maps” in the brain, which correspond to specific areas of touch or sensation not just on their own body, but on the body of people they’re watching dance terribly or make farting noises with their mouths.

Using science fiction-looking caps filled with electrodes that pick up brain activity, the scientists found that the same areas of the baby brain light up whether specific parts of their body are being touched, or the babies are simply watching the same part of the body being touched on another person. This could go a long way to understanding how babies learn things long before they have the language skills necessary to be taught verbally.

The researchers were particularly excited about the potential for these body maps to provide a biological framework to understand more complex cognitive and psychological developments. Today, clapping; tomorrow, calculus! In the meantime, the next time your kid waves back at you, it’s not simply monkey see, monkey do. It’s monkey see, monkey maps it onto the brain, and then monkey do.

Images: Wikimedia Commons; University of Washington