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.
Cognitive researcher Dr. David Rakison and his students at Carnegie Mellon University study how children group objects and form categories. This study examined how infants - aged 14, 18, and 22 months - develop the ability to classify, an essential scientific reasoning skill.
Children were allowed to play on their own with a set of eight toys. In one condition, the set consisted of unmodified toys: four ‘animals’ and four ‘vehicles’. In another condition, the toys were two ‘animals’, two ‘vehicles’, and several modified toys: two ‘animals with wheels’ and two ‘vehicles with legs’. Parents were instructed not to interfere with their children’s play during the experiment. The play sessions were recorded and researchers reviewed the film to determine the order in which children touched the toys.
This study revealed that, when presented with the unmodified toys, children grouped the toys according to whether they were animals or vehicles. However, when presented with the modified toys toys, children at 14 months and 18 months of age classified the objects based on whether the toy ‘had legs’ or ‘had wheels’. In contrast, the 22 month olds classified the objects based on the “body” of the toy – placing animals with legs in the same group as animals with wheels.
Additional research, also conducted at Dr. Rakison's lab, revealed that children as young as 5 months old exhibit classification abilities, indicating that the development of scientific reasoning skills begins at a very young age.
Learn about other research related to An Infant Revolution.
This research is conducted by the Infant Cognition Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.