Amazing Facts About Babies
Mothers and babies can instantly synchronize their hearts just by smiling at each other
Mothers and their babies are often said to share a deep, intimate connection…but even so, this new discovery is weird. Simply by looking and smiling at each other, moms and babies synchronize their heartbeats to within milliseconds of each other.
Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that visible affection from their mothers had tangible physiological effects on three month old infants. Previous studie
Writing in Infant Behavior and Development, the researchers explain what they discovered:
“Mothers and their 3-month old infants were observed during face-to-face interactions while cardiac output was collected from mother and child. Micro-analysis of the partners’ behavior marked episodes of gaze, affect, and vocal synchrony. Time-series analysis showed that mother and infant coordinate heart rhythms within lags of less than 1 s.
However, humans can actually synchronize in ways other animals cannot — while other animals are dependent upon physical contact for this synchronization effect to occur, a mother need only look at her baby affectionately for the heartbeats to synchronize. It hasn’t yet been tested whether infants can form similar levels of attachment with other people, such as their fathers.
Babies can understand what you’re saying at just 6 months old
Babies are easy to underestimate. This is understandable; after all, when most of us interact with an infant, we see a clumsy, messy creature — one more adept at stringing together strange gurgling noises than distinct consonants and vowels.
And yet, evidence continues to accumulate that just because an infant can’t speak, doesn’t mean it can’t grasp what’s being said in its presence. In fact, new research suggests that babies may be capable of understanding many common nouns months earlier than we once thought possible.
There is a significant distinction between understanding the elements of sound that comprise a language, and comprehending the meaning of a word itself.
“It is widely accepted that infants begin learning their native language not by learning words, but by discovering features of the speech signal: consonants, vowels, and combinations of these sounds,” explain psychologists Elika Bergelson and Daniel Swingley in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
“Learning to understand words, as opposed to just perceiving their sounds, is said to come later, between 9 and 15 months of age, when infants develop a capacity for interpreting others’ goals and intentions.”
To test the validity of this assumption, Swingly and Bergelson rounded up 33 infants between the ages of 6 and 9 months, and 50 between the ages of 10 and 20 months, and ran them through two complementary attention tasks.
In the first task, infants were presented with a screen featuring images of a food item and a body part (a nose and an apple, for instance), and verbally encouraged by their caregivers to look at one item or the other (look at the apple or where’s the hand?).
In the second task, the children were again instructed to direct their attention to a food item or body part, only this time the images were placed in a more natural context (i.e. no more disembodies noses — this schnoz actually appeared attached to a human figure).
For both tests, the researchers used an eye-tracking device to monitor where on the screen the infants were looking. In both tests, Bergelson and Swingley found that the babies between 6 and 9 months of age tended to spend more time looking at the named item than the other image (or images) on the screen. These findings, the researchers claim, suggest that the infants actually understood that some words were associated with specific objects.
Interestingly, the researchers noticed little improvement in task performance until the infants were around 14 months old, at which point word recognition spiked drastically.
“Maybe what is going on with the 14-month olds is they understand the nature of the task as a kind of game and they’re playing it,” Swingley said in a release issued by the University of Pennsylvania. “Or the dramatic increase in performance at 14 months may be due to aspects of language development we did not measure specifically, including better categorization of the speech signal, or better understanding of syntax.”
Either way, the complexity of thought going on in the minds of these pudgy poop machines — even at just six months of age — is downright impressive.
“I think this study presents a great message to parents: You can talk to your babies and they’re going to understand a bit of what you’re saying,” Swingley said. “They’re not going to give us back witty repartee, but they understand some of it. And the more they know, the more they can build on what they know.”
Babies understand how people think at just ten months old
Babies might seem like they just sit there, off in their own little world — but it turns out their powers of perception are already shockingly advanced. Infants can actually understand other people’s thought processes… even when what people think isn’t actually true.
That’s the finding of researchers at the University of Missouri, who found that babies as young as ten months old had already developed the cognitive capacity to understand what other people are thinking. While that particular form of abstract thought is of course essential to our success as a species, the fact that it develops at such a young age is still something of a surprise.
Developmental psychologist and head researcher Yuyan Luo explains:
“Understanding other people is a key factor in successful communication, and humans start to understand this at a very young age. Our study indicates that infants, even before they can verbally communicate, can understand the thought processes of other people — even if the thoughts diverge from what the infants know as truth, a term psychologists call false belief.”
So how did the researchers determine all that? Of course, these infants can’t tell us that they know what we’re thinking, but it’s possible to gauge infant thought processes by what they pay attention to, and how long they stay focused on it. In the study, infants observed an actor choose between a bunch of objects. When the actor changed his or her preference, the infants stayed focus longer, which suggests the infants understood something had changed in the situation – specifically, how the actor felt about the different objects.
Luo explains how the study also indicated infant understanding of false beliefs:
“When the actor did not witness the removal or addition of the preferred object, the infants seemed to use that information to interpret the person’s actions. The infants appear to recognize that the actor’s behavior comes from what the actor could see or could not see and hence what the actor thinks, and this finding is consistent with similar false belief studies that involve older children.”
Sure, this is all pretty rudimentary, but it’s from these sorts of gazes that all of the incredibly complex interactions that underpin human society are built up. True human understanding stars much earlier, and much more simply, than we ever thought.
Human infants are born with an innate mathematical ability that allows them to count large numbers of objects more easily than groups of two or three. A new study of 4.5 month old infants’ “number sense” suggests that emphasizing language before numbers is the wrong way to teach kids about the world. Babies can figure out when there’s been a change in the number of a large group of objects before they can understand language. Therefore communicating with toddlers via numbers could become the best way to shape young minds.
The study of babies’ math skills — which did involve silly EEG hats like the one above — also revealed something more general about human brains. When we look at a group of objects, different parts of our brains process the number of objects and the type of objects. So we recognize how many duckies there are with a different brain region than the one that recognizes that we are looking at duckies.
Says a release about the study:
“Behavioral experiments indicate that infants aged 4 ½ months or older possess an early “number sense” that allows them to detect changes in the number of objects. However, the neural basis of this ability was previously unknown. This week in the online journal PLoS Biology, Véronique Izard, Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, and Stanislas Dehaene provide brain imaging evidence showing that very young infants are sensitive to both the number and identity of objects, and these pieces of information are processed by distinct neural pathways.”