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Feb. 2, 2012 Volume 33, No. 18

Babies born with intuitive sense, MU researcher says


Infants as young as two months old tested

While it may appear that infants are helpless creatures that only blink, eat, cry and sleep, one MU researcher says that studies indicate infant brains come equipped with knowledge of “intuitive physics.”

Kristy vanMarle, an assistant professor of psychological sciences, studies infant knowledge by measuring the gaze of infants when they look at different kinds of objects.

“We believe that infants are born with expectations about the objects around them,” vanMarle said, “even though that knowledge is a skill that’s never been taught. As the child develops, this knowledge is refined and eventually leads to the abilities we use as adults.”

In a review of related scientific literature from the past 30 years, vanMarle and Susan Hespos, an associate psychology professor at Northwestern University, found that the evidence for intuitive physics occurs in infants as young as two months — the earliest age at which testing can occur.

At that age, infants show an understanding that unsupported objects will fall and that hidden objects do not cease to exist, vanMarle said. Scientific testing also has shown that by five months, infants have an expectation that non-cohesive substances like sand or water are not solid.

In a previous publication, vanMarle found that children as young as 10 months consistently choose larger amounts when presented with two different amounts of food substance.

“We believe that infants are born with the ability to form expectations, and they use these expectations basically to predict the future,” vanMarle said.