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"Tot Thought" -- The Discovery Files

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An infant cognition study conducted by the University of Chicago offers evidence that babies are able to make inferences about social relationships.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Who's watching whom? (Sound effect: baby laughs)

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Food for thought--among infants: In a new study at the University of Chicago, researchers used food to get a taste of what infants perceive about the social world around them.

64 babies, all nine months old, watched various videos of two adults eating certain foods, showing obvious likes or dislikes as they ate them. In some videos the adults' reactions agreed in others they differed. The researchers assessed the babies' reactions to the videos by how long they gazed at a still screen at the end of each one. It's known that when babies see something unexpected, they look longer, as they try to make sense of it.

A second round of videos focused on social interaction. In these, the same adults greeted each other in a friendly way, or crossed arms and turned their backs to each other, with an unfriendly "HMPH."

The infants' responses suggested that they were surprised when adults who liked the same foods reacted negatively toward each other, and when adults who disagreed about the foods behaved like friends.

Some of the first evidence, that young infants are making inferences about the social interactions in the world around them.

Hmmm, little brother is watching. (Sound effect: baby talk)

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