Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Babies Brainier Than Many Imagine

Date:
May 7, 2009
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
A new study shows what many mothers already know: babies are a lot smarter than others may realize. Though only five months old, the study's cuties 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 study builds upon research showing that babies are not blank slates who primarily depend on others for acquiring knowledge.

A new study from Northwestern University shows what many mothers already know: their babies are a lot smarter than others may realize.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jason Lugo

A new study from Northwestern University shows what many mothers already know: their babies are a lot smarter than others may realize.

Though only five months old, the study's cuties 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. That's a common assumption of researchers in the not too distant past.

"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, is lead author of the study, which will appear in the May 2009 issue of Psychological Science.

In a test with one group of infants in the study, a researcher tilted a glass filled with blue water back and forth to emphasize 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.

In a second experiment, the babies also first saw either liquid or a similar-looking solid in a glass that was tipped back and forth. This time, both groups of infants next witnessed test trials in which a cylindrical pipe was lowered into either the liquid-filled glass or the solid-containing glass.

The outcomes were similar to those of the previous experiment. Infants who first observed the glass with the liquid looked longer in the subsequent test when the pipe was lowered onto the solid. Likewise, the infants who looked at the solid in their first trials stared longer when later the pipe was lowered into the liquid.

The motion cues led to distinct expectations about whether an object would pass through or remain on top of the liquid or solid, the Northwestern researchers noted.

"Together these experiments provide the earliest evidence that infants have expectations about the physical properties of liquids," the researchers concluded in the Psychological Science study.

Hespos primarily is interested in how the brain works, and, to that end, her research on babies' brand new, relatively uncomplicated brains provides invaluable insights. She also is doing optical imaging of babies' brains, in which the biological measures confirm behavioral findings.

"Our research on babies strongly suggests that right from the beginning babies are active learners," Hespos said. "It shows that we perceive the world in pretty much the same way from infancy throughout life, making fine adjustments along the way."

In addition to Hespos, the co-investigators of the Psychological Science study are Alissa Ferry, a graduate student, and Lance Rips, professor of psychology, at Northwestern.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hespos et al. Five-Month-Old Infants Have Different Expectations for Solids and Liquids. Psychological Science, 2009; 20 (5): 603 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02331.x

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Babies Brainier Than Many Imagine." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090506154245.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2009, May 7). Babies Brainier Than Many Imagine. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090506154245.htm
Northwestern University. "Babies Brainier Than Many Imagine." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090506154245.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins