Museum of Science, Boston

An Infant Revolution

The research in this section describes the unique techniques used by scientists who study infants’ cognitive abilities, and the ways that you can be a scientist yourself, either in the museum or in your own home! Although Living Laboratory does not currently host infant studies at the Museum, we provide sample research toys and activities that parents and other caregivers can use to explore infant cognition for themselves.

If you are interested in learning more about the awesome power of babies' minds, Alison Gopnik (UC Berkley) has two great books out in paper back and for kindle: The Scientist in the Crib & The Philosophical Baby. Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek's book Einstein Never Used Flashcards also describes the science for regular people. In 2006, the New Yorker ran an excellent piece titled The Baby Lab: How Elizabeth Spelke Peers into the Infant Mind in which Dr. Spelke - a Living Laboratory collaborator - describes the current state of infant research from her own unique perspective.

Mobile Activities One

What types of visual patterns attract a baby's attention?

Families that visit the Discovery Center can use the toys in the Infant Area to find out what types of patterns attract their babies' attention.

Researchers showed newborns and older infants pictures of different patterns: a bullseye, a checkerboard, solid colors, and line drawings of faces.

The researchers measured how long infants looked at each picture before they became bored and turned away. They also tried showing babies two different images at the same time, and recorded which image babies chose to look at.

By trying many different combinations of images, they hoped to find out what kinds of patterns are most interesting to infants.

The researchers found that babies looked at the images of faces much longer than any other kind of pattern. When infants were given a choice between a face and another pattern, they almost always chose to look at the face. Even infants just a few hours old showed this preference for faces, indicating that babies may be born with a natural preference for faces over almost all other types of patterns. This preference may be an important foundation for the development of social skills - being able to recognize an object as "a person" is the first step to becoming a thriving social being.

Other Resources

Read more about infant vision research.

Learn about other research related to An Infant Revolution.

This research is conducted by the Western Reserve University & Birkbeck College

Try it at the Museum

Infant Mobile

Try hanging pillows with two different patterns from the mobile in the Infant Area. Which one does your baby choose to look at?

Does s/he consistently choose some patterns over others?

What happens if you flip all the patterns upside down?

Try it at Home

Playing With Your Face

Try holding up a toy with a face (like a doll or stuffed animal) next to a toy without a face (like a ball or a keyring). Which toy gets more attention?

Babies love to stare at people's faces. What happens if you cover up part of your face? Does your baby keep staring or does he look away?

Try sticking out your tongue or opening your mouth wide. Does your baby copy your expression? Paying attention to other people's faces, and copying what they do, may be important for helping babies learn to express emotion.