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Infants take control – new knowledge about cognitive development in babies

Prof. Dr. Monika Knopf, Department of Psychology and Prof. Dr. Jochen Triesch, Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) on July 8, 2013

What interests infants in their surroundings? How do they process the information in their world? The insufficiently developed motoric capabilities of babies make it difficult to determine what in their world catches a baby’s attention, and how they deal with the information on offer in their surroundings. One motoric skill that infants possess relatively early on is eye movement. However using eye movements a baby can usually only inspect its surroundings, not control or even change them. This talk presents a new method that allows an infant to control and change its environment by looking. It demonstrates that infants rapidly learn how to use an optical switch, if it allows them to make pictures appear on a screen. Furthermore, after a short introductory phase the babies apparently anticipate the appearance of these pictures. Comparing data from young and older adults investigated as a reference population unexpectedly showed that acquiring the skill to use an optic switch becomes progressively worse and subjects gain little insight into this function. Initial investigations of this procedure for analyzing the memory of babies revealed that with a self switching stimulus triggered by the baby, a sub-group of the infants are less concerned with the stimulus than is usually the case. This was linked to poorer memory performance. Are these special children? Has the attractiveness of the given stimuli been previously over-estimated? These processes and the knowledge obtained from them open up new ways to analyze and interpret typical early cognitive development as well as early developmental disorders.

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