Tag Archives: children

Infants Quickly Learn to Ignore Unreliable and Silly People

Chil­dren learn a lot from imit­at­ing the actions of adults, with recent research sug­gest­ing that infants as young as 14 months are select­ive imit­at­ors – tak­ing cues from our beha­viour in order to decide which of us adults to learn from and which to ignore.

In a study where research­ers expressed delight before either present­ing an infant with a toy (the reli­able con­di­tion) or not present­ing the infant with a toy (the unre­li­able con­di­tion), they dis­covered that infants detect “unre­li­able” people and choose not to learn from then, opt­ing instead for adults that appear con­fid­ent and know­ledge­able – the reli­able group.

“Infants seem to per­ceive reli­able adults as cap­able of ration­al action, whose nov­el, unfa­mil­i­ar beha­viour is worth imit­at­ing,” the research­ers said. “In con­trast, the same beha­viour per­formed by a pre­vi­ously unre­li­able adult is inter­preted as irra­tion­al or inef­fi­cient, thus not worthy of imit­at­ing.” […]

The new find­ing adds to a grow­ing body of research show­ing chil­dren’s selectiv­ity in who they choose to learn from. For example, chil­dren prefer to learn from adults as opposed to their peers, and they prefer to learn from people they are famil­i­ar with and who appear more cer­tain, con­fid­ent and know­ledge­able.

Healthy Food Boosts School Results

In 2004 UK TV chef Jam­ie Oliv­er ran an exper­i­ment at a school in Green­wich, Lon­don for an upcom­ing show of his, Jam­ie’s School Din­ners. By vari­ous means Oliv­er attemp­ted to improve the eat­ing habits of the school’s stu­dents and, by-and-large, succeeded. Track­ing his progress–and that of the children–were two Oxford eco­nom­ists, Michele Belot and Jonath­an James.

The two noted how Oliv­er­’s cam­paign had inad­vert­ently cre­ated “a near-per­fect exper­i­ment” and so began fol­low­ing the aca­dem­ic achieve­ments of the chil­dren with much super­i­or eat­ing habits than their peers and the school as a whole.

Five years later the exper­i­ment star­ted to show res­ults: spe­cific­ally, that the eat­ing habits of school chil­dren has a pro­found pos­it­ive effect on their edu­ca­tion.

Their answer – a pro­vi­sion­al one, since they are still refin­ing the research – is that feed­ing primary school kids less fat, sug­ar and salt, and more fruit and veget­ables, has a sur­pris­ingly large effect. Author­ised absences, the best avail­able proxy for ill­ness, fell by 15 per cent in Green­wich, rel­at­ive to schools in sim­il­ar Lon­don bor­oughs. And rel­at­ive to oth­er bor­oughs, the pro­por­tion of chil­dren reach­ing Level Four* in Eng­lish rose by four and a half per­cent­age points (more than six per cent), while the pro­por­tion of chil­dren achiev­ing Level Five* in Sci­ence rose by six points, or almost 20 per cent.

* I freely admit my ignor­ance: I’ve no idea what these levels refer to. (And I’m not a fan of Jam­ie Oliv­er, if you were won­der­ing.)

The Infant Brain, Redux

An inter­est­ing fol­low-up if you enjoyed read­ing about the devel­op­ment of the infant brain last week: Seed Magazine inter­views Alis­on Gopnik, ask­ing about her research and “why everything we think we know about babies is wrong”.

Seed: You describe chil­dren as being “use­less on pur­pose.” What do you mean by that?

AG: It’s related to one of the basic things that came out of our research: Why do chil­dren exist at all? It does­n’t make tre­mend­ous evol­u­tion­ary sense to have these creatures that can­’t even keep them­selves alive and require an enorm­ous invest­ment of time on the part of adults. That peri­od of depend­ence is longer for us than it is for any oth­er spe­cies, and his­tor­ic­ally that peri­od has become longer and longer.

The evol­u­tion­ary answer seems to be that there is a tradeoff between the abil­ity to learn and imagine — which is our great evol­u­tion­ary advant­age as a species — and our abil­ity to apply what we’ve learned and put it to use.

The art­icle also men­tions how Gopnik believes “Freud’s and Pia­get’s con­cep­tions of young chil­dren’s the­ory of mind are wrong”. A recent (cor­rel­at­ive) study has shown that she may be cor­rect.

Development of the Infant Brain

Look­ing primar­ily at the research of Alis­on Gopnik, Jonah Lehr­er looks at the devel­op­ment of the infant brain.

Gopnik argues that, in many respects, babies are more con­scious than adults. She com­pares the exper­i­ence of being a baby with that of watch­ing a riv­et­ing movie, or being a tour­ist in a for­eign city, where even the most mundane activ­it­ies seem new and excit­ing. “For a baby, every day is like going to Par­is for the first time,” Gopnik says. “Just go for a walk with a 2‑year-old. You’ll quickly real­ize that they’re see­ing things you don’t even notice.”

via Mind Hacks, which itself has a word of cau­tion about the claim that babies have more neur­ons than adults.