The Mysteries of Infant intellect
I suppose the dull demeanor of infants stems from their total captivation with themselves. Babies are ignorant to the pressures and ideals of culture, tradition and society and are therefore indifferent when it comes to status, money, fame or fashion. They are not concerned that you’re buried in responsibility, late on your taxes, or have not slept a full night in months. Like society’s most narcissistic adults, babies are engrossed in their own needs. Eat. Sleep. Poop. Or so we thought.
Groundbreaking research out of the University of California, has revealed that babies as young as six months have the potential to rationalize using probability. Also, in 1997 Hungarian researchers discovered that babies less than one year old were able to comprehend rational action. When babies observed repeated behavior of an object, they developed a logical expectation that the object’s behavior would remain consistent. Further evidence was in the 2009 French and American research study of newborns, which concluded that infants may recognize numbers. Researchers played sequences of four and twelve sounds, followed by images that displayed 4 and 12 objects. The infants stared much longer at images that correlated with the number of sounds, hinting that a newborn may comprehend numerical values.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) calls the rise in studies of baby brains, the “infant revolution”. According to MIT scientists, babies are sophisticated learners that have much more knowledge about the world, right at birth, than we previously believed. In London, at the University College London and Birbeck College, “baby labs” have been set up, solely for researching the infant brain. Other similar sites exist at the University of Toronto’s Infant and Child Studies Centre and MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab, where they are studying infant cognition and language development.
Fascination with the baby brain is a product of this generation. A generation ago no one was interested. During my pregnancy, I passed on reading the parental advice of Dr. Spock, and instead drowned myself in books that explored the mind of my, yet to be born, son. I was introduced to so many intriguing facts about the developing baby brain. Did you know that just two months after birth synapses in the baby’s brain form at about 1.8 million per second, the fastest they will ever grow? Also, contrary to our belief that babies seek to entertain, that cute dance-like hand motion that infants perform is an involuntary response called the Moro reflex, that occurs when babies get a feeling of falling due to a change in position. I also learned some shocking information that would put fear in most parents, which is the theory that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome does not occur because of sleep positioning, but happens when infants dream of being in the womb during REM sleep. What is thought to happen is that babies stop breathing during the dream since breathing is not necessary in utero, which results in death.
Overall, a baby perplex the greatest of parents. They basically need you for everything yet are not able to explain their thoughts or feelings. I suspect that is why there is an urge to get inside their heads. Perhaps if you learn more you can control their crying, keep them happy or better yet put them to sleep (while breathing, of course). I think that it is great to see this generation’s fascination with the psychology and development of babies. Maybe these million dollar labs and scores of researchers will crack the code and discover the mysteries of the baby brain. Who knows? Their thoughts may be profound…or maybe they will just be thinking “ummm…is it time for my bottle yet?” or “…stop touching me!”
It is understood that the academic feats of any particular subject rarely translate into practical application, but one can only hope that the investigation into babes will help someone besides toy companies. What is more interesting in my opinion is not so much the thoughts or potential intellect of an infant, but what they make us think and do. Roots of Empathy is a successful school program that started in Toronto in 1996 and has since spread to Germany, New Zealand, and the United States. The development of babies is observed, and not in “baby labs”. Instead babies visit elementary school children at regular intervals so that the children can participate in their development, and learn how to nurture and care for someone else. The magical aspect of this program is not that babies are solving intricate math equations, but that the babies bring out the love and compassion in human beings. I’m certain babies are better at exposing our heart’s intentions than we’ll ever be at exposing theirs.