Do you sometimes wonder what baby thoughts are like?
Conventional wisdom tells us that our capacity for reason is rooted in language. However, a new study published recently in Science suggests that this capacity to reason logically may not just depend on language, at least not entirely. Their findings reveal that babies who are still too young to talk can reason and make rational deductions.
In other words, babies can think logically before they can talk!
The study’s authors studied infants between the ages of 12 and 19 months, a time in an infant’s life when language learning and speech production has begun, but before complex mastery of it has been achieved.
Baby thoughts and logic
During the study, the children inspected distinct objects, like a dinosaur and a flower. Then, the researchers hid the items behind a black wall.
In one set of experiments, an animation would show a cup scooping up the dinosaur. Half of the time, the researchers would remove the barrier to reveal the flower that remained.
In the remaining instances, the wall would disappear to reveal that the dinosaur remained. And the kids were able to deduce that something was wrong, even if they were unable to put into words what was wrong.
Eye-tracking baby thoughts
To discover this, the researchers used a common technique to gauge mental abilities in pre-verbal children (and apes) called “eye-tracking.”
The technique showed infants stared significantly longer at scenes where the new object appeared behind the barrier. This suggests that babies experience confusion when shown unexpected and new information.
“Our results indicate that the acquisition of logical vocabulary might not be the source of the most fundamental logical building blocks in the mind,” says lead study author Nicoló Cesana-Arlotti. Cesana-Arlotti is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
During the study, Cesana-Arlotti and his teammates also reported infants’ pupils dilated when watching animations featuring illogical outcomes. Experts know that it also occurs in adults tasked with logic problems and provides more evidence that babies are aware of the way things “should” be.
“Their approach of using multiple trial types is very strong,” says Johns Hopkins psychologist and reason researcher Justin Halberda. He was not involved in the study but he wrote an accompanying analysis in Science about the new study.
Baby thoughts are mostly just babies talking to themselves
Halberda notes that a major component of human logic relates to thinking about alternative possibilities and eliminating inconsistent ones.
For example, does the dinosaur sit behind the barrier or does the flower? In formal logical terms, it’s basically “A or B.” Not “if A, therefore B.”
“I think many people would say that most of their reasoning happens when they are silently talking to themselves in their heads,” Halberda said. “What this new study reveals is that preverbal infants are also working through this same type of serial reasoning, and doing so before robust language abilities have been mastered.”
Language is still vital in developing brains and baby thoughts
Cesana-Arlotti did acknowledge their findings do not deny the importance of language and symbolic communication to human brain development, especially to our evolutionary backstory.
However, the new study suggests that, perhaps, language is not completely necessary to shape the brain’s logical reasoning capacities.
Cesana-Arlotti plans to continue further in the study. He say he wants to look into how preverbal logic might still differ from post-verbal logic. (That is, reasoning abilities that emerge after babies learn how to talk.)
Why? Because language may open additional reasoning abilities unavailable to the speechless brain.
Baby thoughts and mental development
He also hopes to look further into the mental development of young children.
“Our research aims to investigate the earliest foundations of our ability to reason logically,” he says, “a major basis for learning, creativity and flexibility in the human mind.”
“To our knowledge, nobody has ever directly documented logical reasoning in 12-month-old infants before,” he adds. “The exploration of the initial state of logic in the mind is a very exciting enterprise.”
Source: Scientific American
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