Baby Brains

Babies know more about the world around them than you may think. The process of cognitive learning begins from infancy through adulthood, and Elizabeth Spelke, Ph.D., is exploring what infants understand about social groups and social expectations.

Spelke, a cognitive psychologist and Dana Foundation grantee, is working with infants and testing their functions to see just how much they know at a young age. In a New York Times article published earlier this week, Spelke said, “All this time I’ve been giving infants objects to hold, or spinning them around in a room to see how they navigate, when what they really wanted to do was engage with other people!”

Spelke says that babies are born accountants (they can match numbers) and use their visual skills to navigate through objects and get a better understanding of surroundings. “The job of a baby is to learn,” said Dr. Spelke. According to The New York Times article, Spelke was the first in her field to note the “infant gaze” as a key role in understanding the infant mind.

Spelke and her colleagues have also found that language plays a role in the development of the infant mind. According to the article, infants as young as a few weeks old show a liking to people with similar speech patterns they have previously been exposed to, meaning they will gaze longer at a person speaking a language they have heard, opposed to someone speaking a foreign language.

This research shows that children use the cognitive skills and functions they learn at a young age, and start integrating them throughout life and into their everyday environment. For more information on Dr. Spelke and her past work on cognitive learning, read this article from 2008.

–Blayne Jeffries

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