New research has found that babies as young as 6 months old are able to make predictions based on probability – a higher level of reasoning than previously believed. “The baby brain is a mystery, waiting to be unpeeled. It’s full of secrets waiting to be uncovered,” says Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, at the University of Washington in Seattle. Scientists at Washington are running some of the first experiments using magneotoencephalography, or MEG, brain-imaging machines on children. The baby sits under what looks like a beauty-salon hair dryer. Dr. Kuhl says the technology is noninvasive and silent. Looking at how babies acquire learning skills may someday help researchers understand how development goes amiss, helping to begin earlier treatments for disorders such as autism.

Stephanie Denison, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and Fei Xu, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley recently finished a study which showed that infants have some knowledge of probabilities. Infants were shown two lollipops – a shiny pink one and a black one, to see if they showed a preference. They were then shown two jars of lollipops: one with a higher proportion of the color they liked, and the other with more of the lollipops they did not favor. The jars were then covered, and the researchers took a lollipop out of each jar and covered the individual lollipop with a cup. The babies were then encouraged to find the lollipop they preferred – and about 80% of the time the babies chose the cup most likely containing their desired choice. Dr. Denison said, “this shows us that infants can make a prediction about probability. They can also guide their own behaviors and navigate their own world.”

Researchers believe continued research will help in developing stronger parenting practices, early education programs, and the earlier diagnosis of learning disabilities…  2/18/13







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