Babies are actually geniuses, which means we're all getting played


The Wall Street Journal has published a piece on the scientists that are hard at work demonstrating that Baby Geniuses is actually a documentary. Patricia Kuhl—co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington—and others have been using a fancy-pants new method to monitor the activity in baby brains. It's called magnetoencephalography (MEG) and, along with a number of studies, it's helping Kuhl and company discover that babies are smarter than we give 'em credit for.

One of the studies—involving lollipops because, babies—demonstrated that the infants were able to use probability and reasoning while problem solving.

The researchers conducted experiments involving a total of 72 infants, ranging in age from 10 months to 12 months. Infants were first tested to see if they showed preference for a shiny pink lollipop or a black one. They were then shown two jars of lollipops: one with a higher proportion of the color they like and the other with more of the lollipops they don't favor. Researchers then covered the jars, took a lollipop out of each jar and covered the individual lollipop with a cup.

The infants, encouraged to find the lollipop of their choice, chose the cup most likely to contain their desired lollipop about 80% of the time. "This shows us that infants can make a prediction about probability," Dr. Denison says. "They can also guide their own behaviors and navigate their own world."

Another indicates that babies can put themselves in someone else's shoes (and not just literally).

"What studies show is that even extremely young babies can already understand something about what's going on in the minds of other people and can even to some extent take the perspective of other people," says Alison Gopnik, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has conducted other research on empathy.

Remember this the next time you go to change a diaper, because it means that the baby is probably mocking you while you change the bag of fecal matter that was hanging from its waist. [WSJ]