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Johns Hopkins University Researchers: Babies Learn from Surprises

April 5, 2015

YouTube video Johns Hopkins

Infants have innate knowledge about the world and when their expectations are defied, they learn best, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found.

In a paper for the journal Science, cognitive psychologists Aimee E. Stahl and Lisa Feigenson demonstrate for the first time that babies learn new things by leveraging the core information they are born with. When something surprises a baby, like an object not behaving the way a baby expects it to, the baby not only focuses on that object, but ultimately learns more about it than from a similar yet predictable object.

The study involved four experiments with preverbal 11-month-old babies, designed to determine whether babies learned more effectively about objects that defied their expectations. If they did, researchers wondered if babies would also seek out more information about surprising objects and if this exploration meant babies were trying to find explanations for the objects’ strange behavior.

The study revealed that infants are not only equipped with core knowledge about fundamental aspects of the world, but from early in their lives, they harness this knowledge to empower new learning.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Video by:
Johns Hopkins University Office of Communications
Len Turner, Dave Schmelick, Deirdre Hammer

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