Babies and Social Learning

The foundation of babies thinking is slowly exposing its secrets. Yet the underlying explanation may be debatable. What components are innate? What components are the results of interaction with the environment?

Karen Wynn suggests that babies are born with three components that help them to understand the social world. Karen often uses puppets to study babies and she has found that babies view the physical and social world as different. Their reasoning about human’s behaviour and actions are different compared to material objects. Babies take goals and desires into account when they are reasoning about living things. But they use naive physics to reason about objects.

A three months old baby can attribute a goal to parents. Young babies acts in ways that suggests that they take the mental contents of other human beings into account. And babies between three to six months make judgments about social interactions. A baby makes judgements about other humans based upon if their actions are “good” or “bad”.  And she understands the actions based upon the positive or negative impact on other people.

Babies are amazing and these ideas and the research that supports it, makes you really think about just how amazing they are.  Babies are making complex social judgements and they have distinct systems for making decisions about the social and physical world. While babies search for intentions behind humans and living things, intentions they do not when they see an inanimate object. A three-month-old baby is surprised when a human face stops moving but not when an inanimate object such as ball stops moving.

Babies assign value to human’s actions from an early age. Rather than creating a social world, it appears that babies assume that the world is social and that they are part of it. Babies choose to interact with pro-social individuals and by studying babies’ reaction towards good and bad puppets several interesting insights into babies’ minds have been found.

Babies prefer helpful puppets and 19-month old toddler will give a treat to a dog puppet she has watched behave in nicely towards another dog puppet. This kind of behaviour can even been seen in 3-mohts old babies. And 80 to 90 percent of infants who  saw a show with bunnies preferred the good bunny.

During their first years, babies like puppets that are acting in a good way, and during the second year, they reward good behaviour. A baby needs to make a judgement about behaviour to give a treat to a puppet behaving nicely. Deciding who is a friend is a vital skill and it seems that babies quickly learn it.

Photo: “Baby In Pink Dress” by Clare Bloomfield

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