Are You Smarter than an Infant? P.2

#3. “Young infants prefer prosocial to antisocial others.”
That’s the title of a 2011 article published in Cognitive Development. The study used a puppet-show with a climber trying to ascend a mountain, and the results showed that children as young as three months were more attracted to characters who offered help to the climber compared to those that prevented the climber from ascending. 3 months? That’s almost 90 days! This strongly suggests the presence of an instinctual attraction for good over evil, which the notoriously formidable environment then tears to microscopic bits of fragmented dust particles.

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#2. Babies are natural philanthropists. Just don’t give them a trophy.
Knock something to the floor, just out of reach, and an infant will crawl over and pick it up for you. In fact, research shows that infants will go significantly out of their way to help others, even when no reward is offered or when it may be costly to do so. For example, infants have been shown to halt their own play behavior to be altruistic. These results are also found in chimpanzees, providing support for the notion that compassion is a genetic predisposition shared among other animals. If only we remained so selfless. Unfortunately, research shows that rewards may decrease the likelihood of future instances of altruism.

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#1. They’re not fooled by wizardry.
To an infant, playing ‘peek-a-boo’ is the greatest thing since pureed carrot. But do babies actually believe you vanished, just because your face is hidden behind your hands? Almost 60 years ago, a famous Swiss psychologist named Piaget suggested that infants understand the concept of object permanence by about nine months of age. Object permanence is the notion that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, touched, or heard. One way to check if a baby has this understanding is to see if they search for hidden objects–when a baby believes that an object is annihilated upon disappearance, there is no reason to search. Piaget’s work garnered important understanding of the infant mind, but based on more recent studies, he probably underestimated the intelligence of even younger children. In fact, Harvard researchers have shown that five-month-old babies stare significantly longer at physically impossible events, suggesting they have a more advanced understanding of the material world than once believed.

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