Infants much smarter than you may think; reveals a study

Toronto, Aug 13: Does a baby know that a dog can jump a fence while a school bus cannot or a cat can avoid colliding with a wall while a table being pushed into a wall cannot? According to an interesting study, infants as young as 10-months old can tell the difference between the kinds of paths naturally taken by a walking animal, compared to a moving car or piece of furniture.

“You can understand something about what babies know based on how long they look at something. Babies will look at something new longer than they will look at something that is already familiar to them,” explained Rachel Baker from Concordia University’s department of psychology.

This is important because the ability to categorise things as animate beings or inanimate objects is a fundamental cognitive ability that allows toddlers to better understand the world around them, added fellow researcher Tamara Pettigrew.

To understand this, researchers looked at about 350 babies – who participated at 10, 12, 16 and 20 months – to find out when children clue in to the fact that animals and objects follow different motion paths. Researchers used a technique called the “visual habituation paradigm” that measures how long one looks at a given object.

Since computer animations of a bus or a table jumping over a wall held the attention of infants for longer than a bus or table bumping into a wall, it indicated the former was newer to them than the latter. In contrast, infants’ attention was held just as well by a cat jumping over a wall as by a cat rebounding after running into a wall, indicating that infants think that cats can both jump and rebound.

“Animals do bump into objects. The bigger picture is that the motion of objects is more predictable than the motion of animals. This research shows that even 10-month-old babies have some understanding of this,” Baker noted.

The study reveals that even the youngest among us absorb more details than some might think through eyes that are usually open wider than adult ones. The findings were shared in the journal Infant Behavior & Development.