Surprises Help Babies Learn


Babies giggle and smile when adults or older children play peek-a-boo or a “surprise” game. In addition to having fun playing with infants, research shows surprises or new experiences stimulate and help babies learn.

Absorbing knowledge
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied non-talkative 11-month-old infants to explore their reactions when surprised by new experiences or objects. Four experiments were conducted, one of which involved rolling a ball down a hill. One time the ball stopped at an existing wall, another time an optical illusion was used to make it appear the ball went through the wall. Babies were intrigued with the ball that did the unexpected by disappearing through the wall, hitting it and dropping it on the floor to make sure it was real.

Scientists discovered that babies learn by building upon what they already know based on knowledge they were born with and acquire. When a new twist to expected situations occurs, babies are surprised and challenged to understand what they saw by figuring out what happened.

Connecting sounds to objects
Johns Hopkins researchers also discovered that babies continually conduct small physics experiments. In a quest to understand why surprising events help babies learn, they discovered the unexpected situation challenges them to want to figure out what happened. Babies focused more on the object that surprised them than on new things.

In fact, babies often made a sound to associate with the surprising object. Researchers taped and replayed the sound later to the baby who made it while showing the same surprising object. They also replayed it to the other infants who didn’t make the sound. Only the child who made the sound connected it to the object.

Johns Hopkins University
The Washington Post

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