Monday, July 16, 2012

2-Month-Old Problem Solvers!

I’m taking a detour from talking about baby sign language to describe one of my favorite findings from the research literature on infant development.

Did you know that even 2-month-old babies are eager “problem solvers?” This posting provides two examples of how psychologists have determined this is so.

One way is illustrated in the photo above of my grandson, Nate, who quickly figured out that he could make the bells over his head ring by shaking his hand. He then did so purposefully and repeatedly.

Here’s another example. In a classic study, a Hungarian researcher named Hanus Papousek challenged 2-month-olds to figure out how to get a red light to come on. The babies learned the answer quickly. All it took was a slight turn of their head to the right. But that was far from the whole story.

The babies seemed thrilled at first, enthusiastically turning their heads to the right and watching the light appear. But it didn’t take long before the babies began to grow bored. At this point they slowed down, turning their heads only every now and then, as if checking to see if they were still in control of the light.

Having observed this periodic checking, Papousek surreptitiously changed the “rule” so that suddenly the babies had to turn their heads to the left to get the light to come on. As soon as one of those periodic checks revealed that a head turn to the right wouldn’t work anymore, the babies knuckled dlown and figured out the new solution to the problem. But once they had discovered that turning to the left was now the key, and once they had practiced it a number of times, they started to lose interest again.

At this point, Papousek challenged them once again, surreptitiously changing the rule again to require a head turn to the right followed by a head turn to the left. No problem! A bit of trial and error and the babies figured it out, repeated it a number of times, and then got bored again.

Here’s the point. What was actually motivating these babies to work so hard? It obviously wasn’t fascination with the red light itself or they wouldn’t have grown bored so easily. No, what kept these babies involved—even at the tender age of 2 month—was the challenge of figuring out how to get the light to come on! They truly were enjoying the experience of solving a problem and the feeling of having control over at least a tiny portion of their world!
Happy Signing (and don’t forget to visit us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program

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