As adults, we have the ability to predict others’ behavior. For example, if we know our friend is thirsty and she reaches for a glass, we can predict that she’s going to pour herself a drink. Social scientists are discovering that with practice, even babies are able to forecast human behavior, an important part of growing up.
One-year old Camille Walker isn’t talking yet, but mom, Laura can often guess what she wants.
“Sometimes she’s predictable, and sometimes she’s not,” Laura said.
While mom is watching baby for clues, baby is doing the same. Developmental psychologists wanted to learn when babies begin to predict the behavior of others and how. Researchers showed infants a video of a woman reaching for toys. When the babies watched a similar video that paused, eye-tracking equipment measured exactly where the baby’s eyes focused during the pause.
“What the eye tracker is doing in this instance is telling us if the baby can predict what the woman is going to reach to before her hand gets there,” explained developmental psychologist Sheila Krogh-Jespersen, PhD.
Researchers found that if they gave the babies practice reaching for the toys ahead of time, even those as young as eight months could make predictions.
Results of the study don’t surprise Diane Ringler, Manager of Home Nursing Agency’s Early Intervention Program, which is headquartered in Altoona.
“It’s amazing what babies can learn from such a young age,” she said.
Ringler added that it’s really important for parents to know that babies start learning right from birth, so it’s never too early to start lots of face to face contact with your baby.
“Really, just including their baby in everything that they do. In early intervention, we talk about incorporating activities in just daily routine. If you’re cooking, holding your baby and taking about the foods and talking about the colors of the foods. You don’t need to take special time to necessarily play with your baby. It’s everyday routines that teach them,” she explained.
Researchers say understanding other people’s actions helps babies learn social cues. Parents can help babies learn to predict actions by letting them safely explore. Let them hold and manipulate household objects like a spoon or a sock.
What if your baby doesn’t seem to respond to your attempts to capture his or her attention?
“Parents should really follow their instincts, and if they feel like their baby isn’t smiling back at them or following when they point to an object. and looking to where they point, then make a call to a physician and ask about their child’s development,” Ringler advises.
She says if your baby isn’t looking at you and smiling at you by three months it could be a sign of developmental problems.
In that situation, she says you should call your physician to see if there is a problem, because help is available.