(p. C2) In an amazingly clever new paper in the journal Science, Aimee Stahl and Lisa Feigenson at Johns Hopkins University show systematically that 11-month-old babies, like scientists, pay special attention when their predictions are violated, learn especially well as a result, and even do experiments to figure out just what happened.
They took off from some classic research showing that babies will look at something longer when it is unexpected. The babies in the new study either saw impossible events, like the apparent passage of a ball through a solid brick wall, or straightforward events, like the same ball simply moving through an empty space.
. . .
The babies explored objects more when they behaved unexpectedly. They also explored them differently depending on just how they behaved unexpectedly. If the ball had vanished through the wall, the babies banged the ball against a surface; if it had hovered in thin air, they dropped it. It was as if they were testing to see if the ball really was solid, or really did defy gravity, much like Georgie testing the fake eggs in the Easter basket.
In fact, these experiments suggest that babies may be even better scientists than grown-ups often are. Adults suffer from “confirmation bias”–we pay attention to the events that fit what we already know and ignore things that might shake up our preconceptions. Charles Darwin famously kept a special list of all the facts that were at odds with his theory, because he knew he’d otherwise be tempted to ignore or forget them.
Babies, on the other hand, seem to have a positive hunger for the unexpected. Like the ideal scientists proposed by the philosopher of science Karl Popper, babies are always on the lookout for a fact that falsifies their theories.
For the full commentary, see:
ALISON GOPNIK. “MIND AND MATTER; How 1-Year-Olds Figure Out the World.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 15, 2015): C2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 15, 2015, and has the title “MIND AND MATTER; How 1-Year-Olds Figure Out the World.”)
The scientific article mentioned in the passages quoted, is:
Stahl, Aimee E., and Lisa Feigenson. “Observing the Unexpected Enhances Infants’ Learning and Exploration.” Science 348, no. 6230 (April 3, 2015): 91-94.