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Amazing Baby Abilities

[ 2011-09-15 15:15]     字号 [] [] []  
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王倩 选 张锦平 译

They may be small and not be able to hold an adult conversation, but babies are proving their collective cleverness. As soon as scientists figured out smarter ways to uncover the wee ones’ abilities, they began finding infants’ skills are more than they’re cracked up to be.

Born to Dance

Speaking of music, babies can’t seem to resist it. Not only are their ears tuned to the beats, babies can actually dance in time with them, according to a study published in 2010.

To test babies’ dancing disposition, the researchers played recordings of classical music, rhythmic beats and speech to infants, and videotaped the results. They also recruited professional ballet dancers to analyze how well the babies matched their movements to the music.

The babies moved their arms, hands, legs, feet, torsos and heads in response to the music, much more than to speech. The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest this dancing ability is innate in humans, though the researchers aren’t sure why it evolved.

Learning quickly while sleeping

Babies can apparently learn even while asleep, according to a 2010 study. In experiments with 26 sleeping infants, each just 1 to 2 days old, scientists played a musical tone followed by a puff of air to their eyes 200 times over the course of a half-hour. A network of 124 electrodes stuck on the scalp and face of each baby also recorded brain activity during the experiments. The babies rapidly learned to anticipate a puff of air upon hearing the tone, showing a fourfold increase on average in the chances of tightening their eyelids in response to the sound by the end of each session.

As newborns spend most of their time asleep, this newfound ability might be crucial to rapidly adapt to the world around them and help to ensure their survival, researchers said. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Know their p’s and q’s

When we say babies do this and that even “before they learn to talk,” we’re obviously not including baby talk and other language smarts.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers had 36 infants watch silent videos of three bilingual French-English speakers reciting sentences. After being trained to become comfortable with a speaker reciting a sentence in one language, babies ages 4 months and 6 months spent more time looking at a speaker reciting a sentence in a different language —demonstrating that they could tell the difference between the two.

“Newborns can be said to be ‘intelligent’ in that they have the ability to almost effortlessly learn any of the world’s languages,” psychologist George Hollich of Purdue University said. Some of Hollich’s research shows that babies start to understand grammar by the age of 15 months, processing grammar and words simultaneously.

Judge Character Well

Pegging another person as helpful or harmful is crucial when choosing friends. And that ability starts early. Kiley Hamlin of Yale University showed both 6- and 10-month-olds a puppet show of sorts with anthropomorphized shapes, in which one shape helped another climb a hill. In another scenario a third shape pushed the climber down. The little ones then got to choose which shape they preferred. For both age groups, most babies chose the helper shapes. This character-judging ability could be baby’s first step in the formation of morals, Hamlin speculated. The work was published in 2007 in the journal Nature.