Brainy babies - Research explores infants' skills and abilities

November 21, 2012

Infants seem to develop at an astoundingly rapid pace, learning new things and acquiring new skills every day. And research suggests that the abilities that infants demonstrate early on can shape the development of skills later in life, in childhood and beyond.

Read about the latest research on infant development published in the November 2012 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

How Do You Learn to Walk? Thousands of Steps and Dozens of Falls per Day

How do babies learn to walk? In this study, psychological scientist Karen Adolph and colleagues at New York University recorded 15- to 60-minute videos of spontaneous activity from infants. They then coded the videos for the time infants spent walking and crawling, the number of crawling and walking steps infants took, and the number of falls infants experienced whether walking or crawling. The researchers found that the infants moved a tremendous amount and that new walkers moved faster than crawlers but had a similar number of falls at first and fewer as they became more experienced. This suggests that infants are motivated to begin walking because they move faster without falling more and that they dramatically improve their walking skills through immense amounts of practice.

Implications of Infant Cognition for Executive Functions at Age 11

Do basic information processing skills in infancy have any bearing on later executive functioning skills in children? Researchers Susan Rose of Albert Einstein College of medicine and colleagues assessed infants for memory, processing speed, and attention at age 7-12 months and age 24-36 months. When they were 11 years old, the children returned to the lab and were assessed for various different kinds of executive functioning skills, including working memory, inhibition, and shifting. Rose and colleagues created a statistical model that used infant abilities to predict executive functioning later in childhood and they found that this model fit the data well. The model indicated that processing speed in infancy significantly predicted working memory and shifting ability at age 11 and that memory in infancy significantly predicted shifting at age 11. This research supports the idea that infant cognitive abilities provide a foundation for the later development of executive functioning abilities.

One-Year-Old Infants Follow Others' Voice Direction

Can infants determine what adults are paying attention to by listening to their voices? Federico Rossano of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and colleagues conducted an experiment in which infants were placed in front of a wooden barrier that had a box sticking out of either side. A member of the research team hid behind the barrier and spoke in the direction of one of the boxes. The researchers then watched to see which box the infants moved toward. Rossano and colleagues found that infants moved toward the box that was in the direction of the researcher's vocalization. A follow-up study that examined the same task with chimpanzees found that they showed no ability to follow voice direction. This suggests that infants -- but perhaps not chimpanzees -- can infer what an adult is paying attention to based on voice alone.
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Please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org for more information.

Association for Psychological Science

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