Researchers from Concordia University in Canada observed the actions of 60 children aged 13 to 16 months who were divided into two groups, one with a reliable tester and the other with an unreliable tester.
In the first task, designed to show the experimenters' credibility or lack of, testers looked inside a container while expressing excitement, before inviting the children to discover whether the box contained a toy or was empty.
The unreliable testers showed the children an empty box.
For the second task, both unreliable and reliable testers used their foreheads instead of their hands to turn on a light, then watched whether the children would follow suit.
Only 34 per cent of children whose testers were unreliable followed their lead and attempted to turn on the light with their forehead.
However, 61 per cent of children whose testers were reliable imitated the behaviour.
Ivy Brooker, one of the authors of the study, said, ‘The research shows children will imitate behaviour from a reliable adult. In contrast the same behaviour performed by an unreliable adult is interpreted as irrational or inefficient, therefore not worth imitating.’
The study, ‘Infants prefer to imitate a reliable person’, is published in the journal Infant Behaviour and Development.