Newborn babies contribute to our understanding of learning

| September 4, 2017 | 0 Comments

Everybody loves a previous newborn baby, but not many people would consider them able to interpret or participate in social interactions.

Emese Nagy, a medical doctor and psychologist researcher at the University of Dundee in the UK, and her team have revealed fresh research that suggests that babies as young as two hours old can interpret and possibly even manipulate social interactions. Nagy’s team interacted animatedly face to face with tiny tots and then presented them with a “frozen” motionless face for three minutes. This is known as a “communication violation” and babies showed what Nagy calls a “robust reaction” to this violation.

“They displayed visible distress and eventually started crying and then used “gaze aversion”, looking away from the stressor. When the experiment was repeated the next day, says Nagy, while still stressed, the babies “increased their gaze at the researcher after the ‘still face’ period”. “Their behaviour was studied by examining videos frame by frame, and the patterns pointed to an active, meaningful response by the newborns, not just fatigue, acclimation or indifference to the situation.”

Nagy’s team asserts that the newborns learnt from the experience. They appeared to have realised that their interaction partners would re-engage with them after a certain period of time, and that the stress associated with the “still face” would disappear. “The sooner they reengaged, the faster they could recover following the disturbance,” says Nagy. Gaze aversion is a key survival technique for babies.

They use it in an effort to shut out unwanted noise, to adapt to the situation and reduce their heart rates, says Nagy. “We have now shown that, from birth, babies can proactively contribute to successful communication and actively enable their caregivers to help them in times of stress.” Nagy’s research suggests that the active involvement of very young children in regulating their own social environments and development has been vastly underestimated

Category: Spring 2017

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