Babies Learn More When Something Surprises Them

April 2, 2015 6:06 PM

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If you're a baby, the world is constantly throwing a lot of new stuff at you. The question of how infants instinctively decide which stimuli to focus on, and how they process what they're experiencing into new knowledge or new skills, has long interested psychologists. One of the most consistent findings across this line of research has been that babies pay special attention when something surprises them — when a familiar object acts in an unfamiliar way, for example, or when an object is jury-rigged by researchers to appear to violate the laws of physics (this should be obvious to anyone who has ever played peek-a-boo with an entranced infant).

In a new study published in Science, Aimee E. Stahl and Lisa Feigenson of Johns Hopkins University find that this element of surprise plays an important role in learning. The researchers conducted four experiments in which they surprised infants in different ways and then tracked how this surprise a...

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