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.
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.
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.
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.