Quirks & Quarks

Surprise Leads to Learning in Babies

Babies have a strategy for learning - they pay more attention to things that are surprising.
Babies experiment with a toy to understand how surprising events happen (Schulz et al., Science (2015))
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Deciding what to learn, when the whole world is new to you, should be a problem for infants. But, in fact, it turns out they have a strategy for exploring the world: when the going gets weird, figure out why.

Infants seem to have an innate understanding of some aspects of how the physical world works. And when those expectations are violated, they become curious little scientists, eager to explore and learn. Aimee Stahl, a PhD candidate in Psychological and Brian Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, showed infants illusions of surprising events, like toys passing through solid walls, or balls defying gravity.

The babies were far more interested in these events, and were primed to learn more about even unrelated things than when they saw toys behaving "normally."

Related Links

- Paper in Science
- Johns Hopkins University release
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CBC/Reuters story
Smithsonian.com story