Your Babies #022: The baby in the mirror

Maciej & Ola sent us this video of their 4 month old baby Frederick seeing himself in the mirror for the first time. He’s not entirely sure what’s going on but he likes it! At four months old Frederick is too young to start to work out that the baby in the mirror is him. But he knows there is something unusual happening here. To me it looks like Frederick keeps waiting for the baby to interact with him and then gets surprised by the synchrony. He won’t be consciously aware that this charming stranger is literally mirroring everything he does. But he is aware it is not the normal way things are. Turn taking is built into the foundations of all human interaction. Conversations and non-verbal interaction alternate between partners. Parents start doing this with their babies from the very beginning. It’s a subtle but ubiquitous feature of the world that even a four month old might have picked up on. So an interaction like this which breaks that rule must seem strange, but nice! Although not all babies are so quick to accept this new phenomena..

Especially, when parents or passing psychologists play tricks on them.

The Baby in the Mirror is also the title of an excellent memoir of infancy by British developmental psychologist Charles Fernyhough. As suggested by it’s US title “A Thousand Days of Wonder”, it is a reflection on the first three years of the life of his daughter Athena. Fueled by his novelist’s power of description and parent’s pride, he poetically combines his scientist’s sense of wonder with her own insatiable childish curiosity. I can highly recommend it. Here’s a short extract about babies and mirrors:

Infants are fascinated by mirrors, of course. Charles Darwin noted that his baby son Doddy, at four and a half months, would repeatedly smile at his own reflection and that of his father, appearing to take them for separate beings. […] Doddy … would have had little in the way of self to be a stranger to. He wasn’t yet aware that he had one single, indivisible presence, and so he couldn’t have been surprised to see it multiplied in this way.
Two months later, Doddy’s understanding of mirrors had taken a step forward. Facing the mirror in front of his father, he now seemed to realise that his father’s reflection was connected to the person standing behind him. When Darwin made a face in the mirror, Doddy turned to look at the man, not at his reflection. We saw Athena doing something similar at the same age. […] She understood something about the mechanics of reflection, that what you see in the mirror si not just an extension of the world but a special version of it. She was far from having a full understanding of it, but the looking-glass world was becoming real.
Knowing that she understood something about mirrors made her reaction to her own reflection that much more interesting. Here she is at the same age, being held up close to the wardrobe mirror. Her eyes are wide. She stares at her reflection and then darts a couple of glances into the corners of the mirror, as though establishing the limits of this weird version of reality. Then she reaches forward excitedly, patting at the glass with both hands. There is a gleeful shout, a smile of pleasure, but her eyes are still active, looking the reflected stranger up and down in what could almost be taken for suspicion. She stays rapt like this for quite a while. She may be noting the connection between her own actions and those she sees reflected: when I bat my hands forward like that, the baby in the mirror does it too. From the inside, from the sense that she has of her own body’s movements and position, she has information about what she is doing; and now the mirror refects the same information back at her. She can imitiate its imitations. She recognises that this specular creature has something to do with herself, and no one else. At the same time, she knows that it is not her; it exists in a different location, flat against our old walnut-wood wardrobe, and it does its corresponding at a distance.

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