It may seem that newborns enter this world knowing nothing and not capable of much thought. However, that’s a false conclusion that we come to because infants can’t yet speak. Considerable research shows that babies are smarter than we believe and are able to understand and process information well before they can convey themselves through speech. One research study indicates that babies less than one year old may be able to grasp relations such as “same” and “different”.
Analogical ability is the aptitude to see common relations between objects, events or ideas. It is one of the capabilities that differentiates humans from other apes. A study by researchers from Northwestern University found that infants displayed analogical ability after only a few examples.
“This suggests that a skill key to human intelligence is present very early in human development, and that language skills are not necessary for learning abstract relations,” said lead author Alissa Ferry, who conducted the research.
In the study, researchers explored whether seven-month-old babies could recognize the most simple abstract relation: the sameness and difference between two objects. The babies were either shown pairs of the same objects or different ones. For example, either two dolls or a doll and a toy camel. The amount of time they looked at the pairs was noted.
Infants spent more time looking at pairs showing the novel relation. This occurred even when the pairs on test were made up of new objects. In simpler terms, the babies who were shown pairs of the same object learned the same relation and then spent more time looking at pairs showing the different relation, and vice versa. This behavior implied that they learned the abstract relation enough to realize when it changed.
Dedre Gentner, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Weinberg, said, “The infants in our study were able to form an abstract same or different relation after seeing only 6-9 examples. It appears that relational learning is something that humans, even very young humans, are much better at than other primates.” Adding that in a recent study with baboons, the animals succeeded in matching same and different relations after over 15,000 trials.
So take note. Even if your baby is not saying much or makes meaningless noises, there’s a lot going on in the head. Parents and caregivers can help stimulate mental development by presenting the baby with new objects and situations. She still may not say much, but she will sit up and take notice.
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