What do babies know? FOX 32 goes inside U of C`s `baby lab`
The next time a baby is watching your every move, you’ll know why. Research reveals infants connect actions to intentions within the first six months of life – long before they say their first word. The woman behind the decades-long study heads a team of researchers at the University of Chicago’s baby lab. They’re studying perception, action and cognition in society’s youngest members.
FOX 32’s Tisha Lewis got a rare look inside.
At first glance, it looks like your typical playpen but it is far from any play date.
Fox 32’s Tisha Lewis went inside the “baby lab” at the University of Chicago, also known as its Center for Early Childhood Research. The cornerstone; where the most mysterious creature in the world – the human baby – comes, unknowingly, to contribute to science.
Why we do what we do? What makes us tick? Who are we when we’re born, decades before we become doctors, lawyers or teachers – even criminals?
18-month-old Lael Relf is walking in one of three rooms that form the baby lab. Little does he know he is there to participate in a study that will gage his ability, in simple terms, to mimic.
The researcher knocks on a toy carton.
It’s fascinating to sit and watch little Lael at the tender age of 1 years old, but the research is more complex than playing a game of copy-cat.
Are babies born good, bad or with a blank slate?
“I think it’s a blank slate,” said Marisol Granado, Sophia’s mother.
“Good. I think they’re born good,” said Christine Otte, Frank’s mother.
Yale University’s ground-breaking infant morality study “Nature” says when shown these googley-eyed images portraying helpers and hinderers on hills, 6- and 10-month olds prefer the good guy over the bad guy.
There is a growing body of research emerging from the University of Chicago’s Early Childhood Research Center where Christine Otte takes her 8-month-old son Frank. He’s just one of 1,000 babies who participate in research year-round.
“They observe a whole lot more than we think you know as parents, I feel like they’re so small that we don’t give them a lot of credit for a lot of stuff,” said Christine Otte, Frank’s Mother.
For more than two decades, University of Chicago Psychology Professor Amanda Woodward has researched infant cognition and wrote several bodies of work about the mystery.
Woodward says the experiments at the baby lab include tracking eye movement.
“And then we’re able to use how they re-shift attention from one part of the event to another part of the event to draw conclusions about what they’re understanding,” said Woodward.
In Sophia, there’s less eye movement, larger circles indicating length of focus and most of her attention is on the face.
That’s the goal in one of the studies is to retain what you’re seeing and build a bunny rabbit.
In babies, there’s even less eye movement and focus on any given point.
“We have to find indirect ways to figure out what’s going on in their minds so we’ve developed experiments where we show babies events where people act and do things,” said Woodward.
Fox 32’s Tisha Lewis even tried it out. In adults there is more movement and smaller red circles indicating a shorter amount of time focused on various points.
“Being able to understand when somebody intended to do something versus when somebody did something accidental is really important for children’s’ moral reasoning,” said Woodward.
Understanding others’ intentions and their own starts with observation before a moral compass is developed.
“It’s true that intention concepts emerge very early and are there early in infancy and are important in foundational in subsequent learning but I wouldn’t consider them to be innate because we also know that they depend on babies’ experience,” said Woodward.
Studies surrounding their rapid and miraculous development are still evolving.
“If babies weren’t able to understand other people’s actions appropriately they wouldn’t be able to learn language, they wouldn’t be able to become culturally competent, they’d have trouble learning appropriate social values,” said Woodward.
Long before babies can walk, articulate thoughts, know right from wrong or good from bad – they observe.
“Babies are very socially smart. As they’re watching other people move around, they’re thinking in abstract ways and deep ways,” said Woodward.
Woodword’s research reveals by 13 months, babies understand intentions are specific to people, yet there are some actions shared by everyone. What does that mean? Babies are on their way to becoming social experts before they turn 2 years old.