Babies are for Learning

If you have 18 minutes and 29 seconds, I would highly recommend you watch this great TED presentation (video below) by Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology at University of California at Berkeley. If you don’t have 18 min and 29 secs, here is a brief summary of her presentation.

Alison’s discussion focuses on the psychology of babies.  She talks about their perceptiveness, problem solving and their ability to obtain an enormous amount of knowledge in a short period of time.  Here are some key points:

1.  Babies are perceptive:  Alison references a study done at Berkeley with broccoli and goldfish crackers.  Not surprisingly, when offered both, the children selected the goldfish crackers.  But when a researcher showed a preference for one or the other, and then asked for more from the child, the results varied.  Young babies (15 months) would consider what they had perceived, but would ultimately give the researcher what THEY thought was best.  However, 18 month old babies would provide the snack that they thought would bring the researcher the most joy.

2.  There is a direct correlation between the length of childhood and intelligence:  We grow smarter because of our time as babies.  This does not only apply to humans, but to other animals as well.  One particular example referenced by Alison was a comparison of Necalidonian crow and a domestic chicken.  The crows, how live under the care of their mother for up to two years, have special talents.  They are able to solve problems, use tools and evolve.  Chickens, who’s childhood lasts a few months, a great at…well…pecking grain.

3.  Babies are great at research and development: This is one of the many great analogies offered by Alison in this video.  She refers to babies as the “research and development department” of the human race.  Exemplifying that children are able to learn and become fit to survive on their own while they are safe and secure.  When they grow up, they are able to put all of those tools to use in their everyday life.

4.  Young children are scientists:  Alison discussed an experiment with four-year-old children and their ability to problem solve.  When given a difficult puzzle, these children would attack this problem/puzzle just as a scientist would.  They would take mental notes, make a hypothesis, test their hypothesis, make more notes, and try another hypothesis.  This would continue until the problem was solved.  The video she shows at the 12:28 mark is very entertaining.

5.  Babies are more conscious than adults:  Alison compares an adults consciousness to a spotlight.  When adults are conscious of something, it becomes a focused part of our attention.   On the contrary, she claims babies have a “lantern of consciousness” are not as good of focusing on one particular thing, but are taking in so much information from so many different sources.  When we think that babies are bad at paying attention, we actually mean they are bad and NOT paying attention to all the things that are trying to reach their brains.

Thanks for the great presentation Alison, and thanks to TED for posting it on their website.