There's a Lot More Going on in Babies' Minds Than You Think

Filed under: Babies, In The News, Research Reveals: Babies

babies minds

A little genius! Credit: Getty Images

Babies are smarter than you think.

Oh, they look like they just sit around all day sucking their thumbs and filling their diapers, but like little evil geniuses, they are taking careful mental notes.

They notice cause and effect and make shrewd calculations about probabilities and outcomes. Not to worry, however. They won't start plotting your destruction until they become teenagers.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports, scientists are learning a lot about the secret intellectual lives of babies and preschoolers.

"We start with these newborn babies and by the time they're 4 years old, they have a lot of common sense knowledge about the world," Laura Schulz, an associate professor of cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells the Globe. "The way we get the world right is by making bets -- based on probabilities, given the evidence."

To illustrate how these little gamblers operate, Schulz and her colleagues built a complicated toy and presented it to small children at the Boston Children's Museum. The toy squeaked, lit up and played music. In some cases, adults showed children how it worked.

Other times, kids were left to figure it out on their own.

The kids who learned on their own actually played with the toy longer and discovered more functions than the kids who were "taught."

There's a moral to the story for parents and educators, Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "The Philosophical Baby," tells the Globe.

"People on the front lines feel as if there's a tremendous pressure to make the environment for young children more and more academic -- less and less exploratory," Alison Gopnik tells the newspaper. "Even something that looks like random, exploratory play can help children to learn and, in some cases, help them to learn better."

Long before they encounter a teacher sternly writing equations on a chalkboard, Schulz tells the Globe children are intuitively studying math and weighing probabilities.

The newspaper reports researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have agreements with Boston Children's Museum and the Museum of Science to conduct learning experiments with children, provided the parents give their consent.

So, babies and preschoolers are constantly observing and making conclusions about the world around them while scientists observe and make conclusions about them.

Who knows who is watching the scientists?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.