From the Mozart effect to educational videos, many parents want to aid their infants in learning. New research out of North Dakota State University, Fargo, and Texas A&M shows that something as simple as the body position of babies while they learn plays a critical role in their cognitive development.
The study shows that for babies, sitting up, either by themselves or with assistance, plays a significant role in how infants learn. The research titled "Posture Support Improves Object Individuation in Infants," co-authored by Rebecca J. Woods, assistant professor of human development and family science and doctoral psychology lecturer at North Dakota State University, and by psychology professor Teresa Wilcox of Texas A&M, is published in the journal Developmental Psychology®.
The study's results show that babies' ability to sit up unsupported has a profound effect on their ability to learn about objects. The research also shows that when babies who cannot sit up alone are given posture support from infant seats that help them sit up, they learn as well as babies who can already sit alone.
"An important part of human cognitive development is the ability to understand whether an object in view is the same or different from an object seen earlier," said Dr. Woods. Through two experiments, she confirmed that 5-and-a-half- and 6-and-a-half-month-olds don't use patterns to differentiate objects on their own. However, 6-and-a-half-month-olds can be primed to use patterns, if they have the opportunity to look at, touch and mouth the objects before being tested.
"An advantage the 6-and-a-half-month-olds may have is the ability to sit unsupported, which makes it easier for babies to reach for, grasp and manipulate objects. If babies don't have to focus on balancing, their attention can be on exploring the object," said Woods.
In a third experiment, 5-and-a-half-month-olds were given full postural support while they explored objects. When they had posture support, they were able to use patterns to differentiate objects. The research study also suggests that delayed sitting may cause babies to miss learning experiences that affect other areas of development.
"Helping a baby sit up in a secure, well-supported manner during learning sessions may help them in a wide variety of learning situations, not just during object-feature learning," Woods said. "This knowledge can be advantageous, particularly to infants who have cognitive delays who truly need an optimal learning environment."
The research was supported in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, under grants HD-36741 and HD-46532 awarded to Dr. Wilcox. Additional research funding was provided by National Institute of Health grant P20 RR016471 from the IdeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program of the National Center for Research Resources awarded to Dr. Woods. NDSU undergraduate and graduate students assisted in data collection for the study.
Research at The Infant Cognitive Development Lab at NDSU focuses on cognitive abilities in infants that are related to attention and memory. The lab is associated with the Center for Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience at NDSU, which is devoted to increasing understanding of the ways that information is perceived and processed by the brain.
NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 research universities with very high research activity as named by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. As a student-focused, land grant, research institution, NDSU is listed in the Top 100 research universities in the U.S. for R&D in psychology, social sciences, computer science, chemistry, physical sciences, and agricultural sciences, based on FY11 research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation.
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