Thursday, 07 May, 2009 Science
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Babies Smarter Than Many Realize, Study Shows

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Scientists from the Northwestern University carried out a research that shows that babies are a lot smarter that many people would imagine. During the study, five-month-old babies managed to differentiate water from a solid blue substance that looked a lot like water.

The current research implies that babies are not blank slates who accumulate their knowledge by looking at other people.

"Rather, our research shows that babies are amazing little experimenters with innate knowledge. They're collecting data all the time," said the study's lead researcher Susan Hespos, who works as an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University.

In a test that involved the participation of two groups of infants, a scientist inclined a glass with blue water back and forth in order to highlight the physical properties of the substance in the glass to the first group. The second group of babies observed a tilted back and forth glass with a blue solid substance that looked like water. Afterwards researchers exchanged the glasses and showed to each group of infants a glass with a different substance (the first group was shown the blue solid substance, while the second observed the water).

By using the looking-time test, scientists noticed that infants, like adults, gaze much longer at something that is new, unexpected or unpredictable. The group of infants that was shown the blue water looked much longer at the substance that resembled water, which means that they had an "Aha!" moment, during which they noticed that the substance was different from what they were previously shown. In their turn, babies in the second group, who initially were shown the blue solid, looked longer at the glass with water.

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

The babies managed to differentiate the two substances according to their physical properties, i.e. the way the solid and similar-looking liquid moved in the glass, how they were poured or tumbled out of turned over glasses.

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

The study and its results will be published in the May 2009 issue of Psychological Science. For more information visit: Northwestern University website

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