Amazing Facts About Babies: Infants Are Keen Observers of Individual’s Preferences

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Babies Know What We Like Best

Babies are not only cute, they are also amazing social statisticians. And infants are keen observers of what is going on around them. As a result, babies know what we like best.

These new findings are based on the new study conducted by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis.

According to the researchers, infants look for consistent patterns of behavior and make judgements about people’s preferences based on simple probabilities calculated from observed events and actions.

Lori Markson, co-author and associate professor of psychological & brain sciences and director of the Cognition & Development Lab, confirmed the key findings.

Markson said, “Even before they can talk, babies are keeping close track of what’s going on in front of them and looking for patterns of activity that may suggest preferences.”

Markson added, “Make the same choice three or four times in a row, and babies as young as 8 months come to view that consistent behavior as a preference.”

Aside from that, the researchers found that babies as early as eight months old spend much more time looking at events they consider to be new and unusual allowing them to see life from someone else’s perspective.

Consistency is One Factor

The study found that infants and young children learn about people’s preferences for a certain kind of food, toy or activity. One key factor for it is consistency.

Markson said, “Consistency seems to be an important factor for infants in helping them sort out what’s happening in the world around them. In other words, if you break the routine, all bets are off in terms of what they expect from you.”

What about inconsistent behavior? Markson has an interesting answer for this!

Inconsistent choices affect infants’ understanding about others’ preferences, according to Markson.

baby interacting: infants are keen observers.
A baby boy tapping on a computer keypad.

The Study

Markson and Luo conducted a series of experiments to track how infant “looking times” changed when an actor made an unexpected choice between one of two stuffed-animal toys displayed before the infant on a small puppet stage.

They corroborated these findings using a similar experiment that tracked whether infants, when asked to give a toy to the actor, would reach more often for the toy consistently chosen by the actor in previous trials, thus implying that the infant understood the actor’s preference.

The experiments were conducted on a sample of 60 healthy, full-term infants with an even split of males and females ranging in age from 7 to 9 months and an average age of 8 1/2 months.

There are two phases of the study. In the familiarization phase, the toy selection process was repeated four times under three separate conditions.

Findings confirmed that the babies spent about 50 percent more time looking at selections that represented a break from consistent patterns made in the familiarization trials.

In a second phase of the study, researchers reaffirmed their findings using a variation on the experiment in which the women who had chosen the stuffed animals during the trial phase asked the infant to choose between two toys by saying: “Can you give it to me? Can you give me the toy?”

In this variation, the infants also seemed to have made assumptions about the women’s toy preferences, reaching for the stuffed animal that had been consistently chosen by the woman during the trial phase.

The proof that infants are keen observers tells a lot about how our actions depend on our early childhood.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.