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Intellect

Pair of BYU studies shows the baby learning curve

Every parent would love to get inside their baby’s mind to see what they are thinking, which is just what one Brigham Young University professor does through a series of video tests that help him plot the baby learning curve.

In a new study, BYU psychology professor Ross Flom demonstrates that a 4-month-old baby can comprehend what their parent is feeling through simultaneous sights and sounds.

For example, a 4-month old baby would understand a parent who showed an emotional expression in their face and in their voice. That would not happen until five months through voice alone and not until seven months through the face alone.

“Simultaneous sights and sounds capture infants’ attention and drive early learning,” said Flom, who reported his findings in the highly-ranked journal Developmental Psychology.

To determine when, what and how babies learn, Flom and his team of students invited parents to bring their babies to see a series of short video clips. A pair of observers recorded how long each baby looked at the screen as an actor presented an emotion several times in a row. Naturally the kids paid less attention on the second and third viewing. Then suddenly the actor presented a different emotion. The children who noticed and understood the shift regained interest and looked longer at the screen.

“Nearly all organisms, including humans of all ages, reveal quite a bit through what they choose to look at and how much time they spend attending to that event,” Flom said. “The only trick is to come up with the right presentation to test an idea about how and what babies learn.”

In a second study – published recently in the journal Infant Behavior & Development – Flom showed that both boys and girls begin to think about and discriminate gender stereotyped activities by their second birthday. In previous research, other scholars concluded that girls develop this trait earlier than boys. That earlier study, however, presented still photographs to kids, whereas Flom used video scenes which more closely represent real-life interactions.

“Infants know so much at a very young age,” Flom said. “The question is, ‘How can a child master so much in a few short years?’”

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