In the past few decades, several regrettable films have tried to tell us that babies know more than they're letting on. Now scientists have proven that infants are capable of complex reasoning in a study that has interesting — and somewhat sinister — implications.
LiveScience reports that most research on babies' intelligence has involved tracking how long babies look at certain scenarios. A baby staring longer at an event in which something is off shows that she understands the situation is unusual. MIT researchers wanted to see if babies can also predict what will happen based on probability.
To do this, they showed the children a series of videos featuring four objects bouncing around inside a balloon-like shape, with only one opening on the bottom. The balloon is momentarily covered up, then one object falls out. From LiveScience:
The likelihood of any given object exiting depends on many factors: How many of each type of objects there are, how long the scene was covered up, how the objects are moving and where they were the last time the baby saw them. For example, in a scene in which a circle is hovering near the exit when the barrier covers the enclosure for a split-second, you'd expect the circle to pop out. In a scene where the barrier goes down for two seconds, the location of that circle might not matter as much, because other shapes could have moved closer to the exit in that time. To guess what is going to happen, infants have to pull together all the information.
Scientists tracked the babies' level of surprise and compared this to a computer model. Josh Tenenbaum, a cognitive scientist, says:
"Even young infants' brains, before they're able to walk and talk, they are building coherent, rational models about what is happening out there in the world ... We actually think that at 12 months, they know more than this model does."
The researchers' goal is to use this information, which could lead to a "formal theory of infant reasoning," for noble purposes, like understanding children with developmental disorders. However, they also hope the study could help develop artificial intelligence. Teaching computers to play a version of Hungry Hungry Hippos may seem harmless enough, but when sexy androids launch an attack on our planet, we'll wish we kept the secrets of human brain development to ourselves.
Babies Are Capable Of Complex Reasoning [LiveScience]
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