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Babies' Amazing Abilities

Scientists have become cleverer at figuring out ways to uncover babies' abilities and the better they become at it, the more amazing things they discover about infants' abilities.

1. Babies understand dominance.

Findings published in January 2011 in the journal Science, suggest that babies understand social hierarchies and know that size can determine who's in charge. As early as 10 months, babies seem to figure out that often, might makes right. When shown scenes of big and small cartoon blocks interacting, infants stare longer (indicating surprise) when the big one yields the right-of-way to the small one than they do when the small one yields to the larger.

Researchers believe this shows that babies' brains are "wired" with the "blueprints" of social interaction.

"When you're showing these kind of fairly sophisticated or rich concepts are in place before infants get language and before they really participate extensively in social interactions with the world, that is telling you: What are the basic building blocks of the mind?" study researcher Lotte Thomsen of the University of Copenhagen says."These are really the basics of how we think."

2. Babies understand dogs' emotions.

A 2009 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology, showed that 6-month-old babies were able to match the sounds of an angry snarl or friendly yap with photos of dogs showing the corresponding body language. "Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world," said lead researcher Ross Flom, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah.
3. Babies recognize moods and emotions.

Babies as young as 5 months of age can accurately pick out an upbeat tune from a gloomy one, according to a study published in 2010 in the journal Neuron. By 9 months, babies could also identify the sorrowful sound of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony from a lineup of more joyful songs.
4. Babies are born to dance.

According to a study published in 2010, babies' ears are not only tuned in to musical beats, they can actually move (dance) in time with them.

To test this, researchers played recordings of classical music, rhythmic beats and speech to infants, and videotaped the results. They also recruited professional ballet dancers to analyze how well the babies matched their movements to the music.The babies moved their arms, hands, legs, feet, torsos and heads in response to the music, much more than to speech. The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest this dancing ability is innate in humans, though the researchers aren’t sure why it evolved.

5. Babies mimic others' actions.

A 2009 study published in the journal Biology Letters revealed that when 9-month-olds watch an adult reach for an object, the motor region in their brain becomes activated as if they were reaching for the object themselves.

Researchers think mirror neurons are at play. These brain cells fire for both observed and real actions and have only been directly measured in monkeys. In one of the study’s experiments, once the babies had observed the experimenter grabbing for a toy, the "mirror" brain activity also occurred just prior to the action. Having that predictive capability could help infantss respond to another's actions to, say, intercept the movements and take the toy. The brain finding could also be an example of baby's first steps into the social world, the researchers suggest.

6. Babies learn quickly while sleeping.

Babies can apparently learn even while asleep, according to a 2010 study. In experiments with 26 sleeping infants, each just 1 to 2 days old, scientists played a musical tone followed by a puff of air to their eyes 200 times over the course of a half-hour. A network of 124 electrodes stuck on the scalp and face of each baby also recorded brain activity during the experiments. The babies rapidly learned to anticipate a puff of air upon hearing the tone.

Researchers say that since newborns spend most of their time asleep, this newly discovered ability might be crucial to rapidly adapt to the world around them and help to ensure their survival. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

7. Babies have some math abilities.

In a 2006 study, 7-month-olds were presented with voices of two or three women saying "Look," and they had to choose between looking at a video image of two women saying the word or three women saying it. The babies spent significantly more time looking at the image matching the number of women speaking. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

8. Babies have language abilities even before they can speak.

In a 2007 study published in the journal Science, researchers had 36 infants watch silent videos of three bilingual French-English speakers reciting sentences. After becoming comfortable with a speaker reciting a sentence in one language, babies ages 4 months and 6 months spent more time looking at a speaker reciting a sentence in a different language —demonstrating that they could tell the difference between the two.

Psychologist George Hollich of Purdue University says, "Newborns can be said to be 'intelligent' in that they have the ability to almost effortlessly learn any of the world's languages." Some of Hollich's research shows that babies start to understand grammar by the age of 15 months, processing grammar and words simultaneously.

9. Babies can judge character.
Kiley Hamlin of Yale University showed both 6- and 10-month-olds a puppet show using anthropomorphized shapes, in which one shape helped another climb a hill. In another scenario a third shape pushed the climber down. The infants then got to choose which shape they preferred. For both age groups, most of the babies chose the helpful shape. Hamlin speculated that this character-judging ability could be babies' first steps in the formation of morals. Her work was published in 2007 in the journal Nature.





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