We all know how much our young children love to imitate us, whether it’s pretending to drive a car, drink imaginary coffee or shave an imaginary beard, kids love a good game of copycat.

But why is it that kids are so compelled to copy our actions? New research has found that imitation may be a uniquely human characteristic which has helped us evolve.


A recent study has found that human children learn to imitate behaviours much faster than young bonobo apes which are our closest primate relatives.


Researchers found children aged three to five have the ability to spontaneously imitate the behaviour of others, even when it has no apparent purpose.


They say this unique characteristic is what sets us apart from other primates and helps us learn and develop.



Researchers from Birmingham and Durham University observed the behaviour of 77 young children aged three to five years old in the UK and a group of young untrained bonobo apes living in a forest enclosure in The Congo.


Bonobos were chosen for the study as they often exhibit human-like behaviours and along with chimpanzees, are our closest living relations.


Researchers carried out an experiment where they showed the children and the bonobos a wooden box with a small reward inside.


Before opening the box, the researcher would perform a series of “nonsensical actions”, such as waving their hand over the box or tracing a line over the box. They then passed the box to the participants without any instructions what to do with it.


Most of the children followed suit and repeated the researcher’s “nonsensical actions” but the young bonobos showed no interest in doing this.



Assistant professor of psychology at Birmingham University, Zanna Clay told The Mail Online: "Our results show striking species differences in imitation.


“The young children were very willing to copy actions even though they served no obvious function, while the bonobos were not.


“Children’s tendency to imitate in this way likely represents a critical piece of the puzzle as to why human cultures differ so profoundly from those of great apes”.


Have you noticed your kids imitating you for no apparent reason? Let us know mums.