Baby Power

Yesterday’s post was on the implications of imitative gazing, and today the gaze monitors are back with their electronics to check out young gazers. 6 or 8-month old children don’t have much in the way of tools to take charge of their environment, but that’s not going to stop them.

The power of the baby’s stare is the subject of this week’s contribution to the Public Library of Science by Wang et al (1).  Their experimental program worked with infants and TV screens. The first thing they tried was showing a red spot in one corner of the screen. If the infant stared at it, a nice picture of an animal appeared on the screen for a second or two. It reappeared on the screen if the dot was again fixed by the beady baby eye.

The electronic eye tracking equipment worked out where the infant was looking and the 6-month old children quickly worked out how to bring up the picture. The 8-month old ones were even quicker to catch on.

So far so good, but our seekers after truth thought maybe the kids were only staring at the dot because there was nothing else to look at, so now the became devious. They displayed two identical dots in opposite corners, but only one would bring up an animal experience. The animal picture this time faded slowly instead of just switching off. Presumably, this made the picture more desirable.

Again the kids quickly learned which spot to stare at and so control their rather limited environment. As a control, a group of adults were given the same test. It turned out that only half the adults worked out that one of the spots was a control mechanism. The other half were confused as to what was going on.

So what have we learned? It seems that in the cradle we learn that we can control our environment by merely staring at something. We’re familiar with the game of fetch. The baby throws the toy out of the cradle, and looks at it, and we rush to retrieve it and then we go round again.

Later on, we play the baby’s role when we take our dog out for a walk. Our dogs are usually willing players, but sometimes they play the other role and just sit there looking at where you threw the ball until you fetch it.


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