A newborn baby brings all sorts of awe and wonder to a parent. Infants’ curious nature is precious to watch as they learn and grow. But did you know the element of surprise is what helps infants to learn?
A new study published in Science shows that infants learn by being stunned by the objects surrounding them.
It is commonly known babies explore using their strongest senses of taste and feel. This is very evident when an energetic infant bashes, say a very full cup of juice, against a table. Though they may not distinguish between play-objects and more unfavorable objects, parents can take comfort in knowing their child is exploring and learning.
Babies learn the most, however, when they experience the unpredictable! Researchers from Johns Hopkins University took on a group of 11-month-olds to see what how they would behave towards the expected versus the unexpected. The researchers, cognitive psychologists Aimee E. Stahl and Lisa Feigenson, experimented with two scenarios. First, they rolled a ball down a ramp and the ball was promptly stopped by a wall. Then, they rolled the same ball down a similar ramp but the ball was allowed through the barrier.
When their expectations were defied, the babies were curious to play with the ball that passed through the barrier using touch, taste, and, of course, bash. However, when the ball reacted as predicted, the babies showed less interest.[i]
Their research suggests babies have more innate knowledge about how things work than what we might think. They form predictions, have expectations, and utilize their own system for learning.
“For young learners, the world is an incredibly complex place filled with dynamic stimuli. How do learners know what to focus on and learn more about, and what to ignore? Our research suggests that infants use what they already know about the world to form predictions. When these predictions are shown to be wrong, infants use this as a special opportunity for learning,” said Feigenson. [ii]
As Stahl points out, “”These results are important because it shows that infants can use their very sophisticate knowledge about the world, about how objects behave, to then harness or guide their future learning.” [iii]
When science is this cute, you can’t help but watch: