Babies are a lot smarter than many imagine

May 8th, 2009 - 6:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 8 (IANS) A new study has only validated what mothers have known all along, that their babies are a lot smarter than others think.
Though only five months old, the study’s subjects indicated through their curious stares that they could differentiate water in a glass from solid blue material that looked very much like water in a similar glass.

The finding that infants can distinguish between solids and liquids at such an early age builds upon a growing body of research that strongly suggests that babies are not blank slates who primarily depend on others for acquiring knowledge.

“Rather, our research shows that babies are amazing little experimenters with innate knowledge,” Susan Hespos said. “They’re collecting data all the time.”

Hespos, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University, is the study co-author.

In a test with one group of infants in the study, a researcher tilted a glass filled with blue water back and forth to emphasise the physical characteristics of the substance inside.

Another group of babies looked at a glass filled with a blue solid resembling water, which also was moved back and forth to demonstrate its physical properties.

Next all the infants were presented with test trials that alternated between the liquid or solid being transferred between two glasses.

According to the well-established looking-time test, babies, like adults, look significantly longer at something that is new, unexpected or unpredictable.

The infants who in their first trials observed the blue water in the glass looked significantly longer at the blue solid, compared to the liquid test trials.

The longer stares indicated the babies were having an “Aha!” moment, noticing the solid substance’s difference from the liquid.

The infants who in their first trials observed the blue solid in the glass showed the opposite pattern. They looked longer at the liquid, compared to the solid test trials.

“As capricious as it may sound, how long a baby looks at something is a strong indicator of what they know,” Hespos said. “They are looking longer because they detect a change and want to know what is going on.”

The five-month-old infants were able to discriminate a solid from a similar-looking liquid based on movement cues, or on how the substances poured or tumbled out of upended glasses.

“Our research on babies strongly suggests that right from the beginning babies are active learners,” Hespos said, according to a Northwestern release.

These finding will appear in the next issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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