What do babies remember?
Adults can’t recall their own infant years, so they often assume babies themselves don’t remember much, either.
That assumption is wrong, as researchers at Rutgers University continue to prove. Their latest discovery, published in the journal Psychological Science, is that even when babies can’t remember the details of a missing object, they do remember it exists.
These littlest study participants can hardly tell anyone this, however.
“It’s not easy to study babies and toddlers. They don’t cooperate,” says Alan Leslie, director of the university’s Cognitive Development Lab on Busch Campus, Piscataway. Babies can’t talk, point, follow instructions or answer questions. Often they cry and squirm.
Yet babies and toddlers learn at a fabulous pace. From the end of the second year through the sixth, children expand their vocabularies by an average of eight to 10 words a day. “They are just the most amazing learning machines in the known world,” says Leslie.
Even before they acquire words, they are already learning at a rate unsurpassed by any other stage of life. Unraveling the mysteries of this crucial pre-verbal stage could ultimately shed light on how and when humans learn. That in turn could offer insights into autism and other development disorders, Leslie said.
To determine how much an infant can remember, researchers at the lab devised a version of “two-card monte” for 6-month-olds. (Infants can keep track of three items; adults, just four.)
Earlier studies demonstrated that when a baby viewed an object subsequently hidden behind a screen, she wouldn’t notice if the screen was lifted to reveal a different object. It was assumed this meant the baby had simply forgotten the first object.
Leslie’s latest study shows it’s a bit more complicated.
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