Babies understand probabilities

February 20, 2013

in glenn doman, preschool education, research

Babies are much smarter than you think! Adults tend to underestimate babies massively because babies are not able to express themselves with our common form of communication – verbal language. But the more experimental psychologists devise different ways of checking for understanding of the world – such as measuring eye movements, brain activity or behavioural outcomes, the more they agree that skills commonly thought to be acquired much later in childhood are inborn in children. A recent experiment has even found the surprising result that even very young babies understand probabilities!

Two researchers of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver put a collection of red and white ping-pong balls in a box. Babies were shown examples of boxes containing mostly red or mostly white balls, to give them an idea of what the boxes might contain. Then an adult brought out a new box, shook it up, and drew out five balls: four of one colour, and one of the other. Afterwards, they showed the babies the content of the box from which the balls were drawn, and recorded how long the infants gazed at its contents. Babies stare at unexpected events longer than expected outcomes. If the adult drew mostly red balls from a box that was revealed to contain mostly white balls, for example, the infants stared at it for roughly two seconds longer than if the box and the withdrawn sample were both of mostly the same colour.

The same researcher also showed infants four balls bouncing around in a box, with one being a unique colour, and watched the infants’ responses when one ball bounced out. The children were suprised when the extracted ball was the odd-one-out. Researchers therefore confirm what educational experts such as Maria Montessori and Glenn Doman long suspected – that babies and young children are far more capable than adults think, and that they can apply these skills as long as they are allowed to explore their stimulating environment.

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