Infants can compare and contrast objects, study

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online
With some training, infants are able to tell if two objects are alike or different, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.
Past studies have shown that toddlers can recognize that a quarter and a penny aren’t the same thing, but the new study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, is the first to show that human babies are capable of this skill at such an early age.
“This suggests that a skill key to human intelligence is present very early in human development, and that language skills are not necessary for learning abstract relations,” study author Alissa Ferry, a brain development researcher, said in a press release.
Elmo is not the same as a camel
In the study, the scientists started out to see if 7-month-old infants could comprehend sameness and difference between two objects by showing them either two Elmo dolls or an Elmo doll and a toy camel until their observation time ran out.
They then had the infants look longer at pairs that were either the “same” or “different,” including test pairs composed of new items. The team saw infants who had learned the “same” relation looked longer at test pairs showing the “different” relation and vice versa. The team said this indicates the infants had figured out the abstract relation and recognized when the relation changed.
“We found that infants are capable of learning these relations,” Ferry said. “Additionally, infants exhibit the same patterns of learning as older children and adults — relational learning benefits from seeing multiple examples of the relation and is impeded when attention is drawn to the individual objects composing the relation.”
The study team also noted that that infants can develop abstract relations in their mind before they learn the words that describe what they know; which means relational learning in humans does not require language and is a basic skill of its own.
“The infants in our study were able to form an abstract same or different relation after seeing only 6-9 examples,” said study author Dedre Gentner, a professor of psychology at Northwestern. “It appears that relational learning is something that humans, even very young humans, are much better at than other primates.”
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