Guess What? Babies Are Way Smarter Than Any of Us Realize
Perhaps this will come as no surprise to any of you, but a new study out of Paris, France, has essentially confirmed that babies are, in fact, capable of understanding a lot more than we adults give them credit for. They are way smarter than we realize!
The study was completed on 20-month-old babies and revealed that babies, even at that young of an age, are using a “sophisticated form” of thinking called metacognition. One of the study's authors, Dr. Sid Kouider, described metacognition as an intuitive type of knowledge, similar to what adults do when they “follow their gut” or use “gut thinking.” But metacognition goes a step further and is the knowledge of knowing when you don't know something — it sounds almost silly, but when you really think about it, that type of knowledge takes a deep awareness and in such a tiny human brain, it's really astonishing. Babies may not be able to walk or talk yet, but they are aware when they are missing information or even if they have done something wrong.
The researchers tested the babies for metacognition by hiding toys in front of the infant, which allowed the baby to then “find” the toy without looking to their caregivers for help; however, when the toy was hidden when the babies weren't looking, the infants automatically looked to their caregivers for help. They were aware that the toy had been hidden and they were aware that they didn't have the information to find the toy on their own, so they “asked” for help in a way they knew how–by looking to their caregivers, even if they couldn't verbalize what was happening clearly.
Honestly, I feel like those of us who are parents or have been around babies didn't necessarily need a study to tell us this. Babies are like the master species, in my opinion. They can sense things in a way that adults have seemingly lost the ability to do; when you're feeling down, they will have the perfect cuddle to make it better; when you're sad, they seem to be just a little more clingy than usual; when you're stressed or unhappy, they have a way of reminding you just what is important in life. They seem to know things and this study only proved that to be more true than ever.
And just why is a study like this important? Well, because, first of all, scientists once assumed that children didn't develop the ability to practice metacognition until much later in life. So advancing our understanding of what infants are capable of is not only exciting but really important, too. We can't begin to better understand child development–and thus support our children–without first understanding how their thinking develops. By realizing that babies are looking for outside sources for help when problem-solving, we are better able to equip them with the tools they need to develop that thinking. It's almost like a “Call a Friend” card in a game show, except for babies.
Secondly, this knowledge helps parents too, to understand when their baby is trying to tell them that they don't understand something. As the study's author noted, “infants already know when they don’t know something, and they are able to signal this fact to their caregivers” which could help both infants and caregivers ensure that the baby is better able to be safely cared for, even if they're not quite sure what a look means (from the baby's perspective, of course). It could be as simple as, “Mom, I know enough to not know why I'm upset, but I'm still upset, so help me!!” which totally makes sense to me, because even adults do that, right? We get hangry or tired and as a result, grumpy, but aren't even truly aware of what is really upsetting us.
Now, if there could just be a study that could confirm that babies can, and do, see things that adults can't see, we would be all set. Because I swear all of my babies have been talking and cooing to corners in my house where absolutely no one is standing and I would like science to officially tell me if I need to be creeped out or comforted by that, thanks.