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Language And Learning Dictates Behavioral Preference Among Infants, Study Finds

First Posted: Oct 19, 2016 06:32 AM EDT
FREDERICK, MD - SEPTEMBER 30: Megan Beard (L) Meagan Warren interract with infants before Laura DeBouchel received the Knowledge Universe Early Childhood Educator Award at the Taney Avenue KinderCare Learning Center on September 30, 2014 in Frederick, Maryland. The highly selective award recognizes teachers who demonstrate exceptional skills in teaching young children and raises the awareness of the important impact made by these early childhood educators.
FREDERICK, MD - SEPTEMBER 30: Megan Beard (L) Meagan Warren interract with infants before Laura DeBouchel received the Knowledge Universe Early Childhood Educator Award at the Taney Avenue KinderCare Learning Center on September 30, 2014 in Frederick, Maryland. The highly selective award recognizes teachers who demonstrate exceptional skills in teaching young children and raises the awareness of the important impact made by these early childhood educators.
(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for Knowledge Universe)

We all have interacted with infants and know how fickle the little guys are when it comes to whom they give their attention to, especially if you're someone that they recently met. And a new study suggests why this is.

It turns out that a baby's selective behavior manifests even before their first birthday and are able to identify which group they belong to and which group should be shunned. While the baby is making an "us" versus "them" judgment, they aren't doing this to discriminate others.

Rather, they choose to give their attention to someone if that person offers new information using language familiar to them. Babies, as the research concluded, are all about learning new things and they aren't going to waste their time paying attention to someone that they don't understand, said LA Times.

Babies Prefer Individuals That Speaks Their Native Tongue

The study revealed that when given a choice between listening to someone speaking their language and a person who speaks a different tongue, 11-month old infants consistently latched on to the native speaker and ignored the foreign one. Within those moments of decision, researchers detected a distinctive pattern in a baby's brain activity; a pattern consistently observed on infants who are expecting to learn something new.

The question now is this: how can the researchers reached such conclusion when infants couldn't even speak yet? First, they measure EEG theta activity, a neural rhythm indicating that an adult's brain is primed to receive new significant information.

They then conducted two experiments involving 45 infants who came from homes where English was the only spoken language. First, they explored how babies decide to whom they pay attention to. And second, the researchers tried to determine what drives this choice, said PNAS.

Research Concludes That A Baby's Preference Is Driven By Its Desire To Learn

The study then showed videos to the babies regarding two women interacting with a particular object. One woman identified the object and would demonstrate how it was used, while the other would show a woman who only held the object, muttered "ooooh," and didn't offer any information at all.

The babies, being avid little learners, were more taken with the woman giving information about the object opposed to the one who didn't. Establishing this, the researchers then showed a different video where two women were providing useful information on the subject but one did so in English, while the other was in Spanish.

After the introductory video, the babies exhibit a burst of theta activity when they saw the English speaker. When the Spanish speaker appeared, however, theta activity was completely absent. Thus, the researchers concluded that a baby's preference is driven by its desire to learn new things and who can provide it in the most optimal way possible.

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