Baby's Brain in Week 41
We all use tools every day: toothbrushes, brooms, shovels, and can openers, to name a few. Tool-using is a hallmark of advanced intelligence (remember that from biology class?).
Ten-month-olds begin to use tools for reaching their goals. If a child this age could think out loud, we might hear her say, "I see that toy sitting on the blanket, and I want it. I could crawl over to get it, but the blanket is right here. I'll pull it toward me, then the toy will come along with the blanket and I can easily grab it." What a smarty!
What the Research Shows
In one experiment, researchers introduced 10-month-olds to a few basic tools: a cloth, string, hoop, stick, and crook (think: curved, walking stick-type item). In various experiments, a buglike toy creature was either on, attached to, or near the tool.
The toy and tools were presented to the babies one at a time. The babies were highly interested in the toy (which was out of reach), and they only turned to the tool (which was within reach) when needing to use it to retrieve the toy. The experimenters recorded the children's ability to use the various tools to reach their goal.
When the colors of the toy and tool were different it was easier for the children to solve the toy retrieval problem. The color differences somehow made it clearer to the 10-month-olds that they were two distinct objects, one of which was the tool to help them acquire the toy.
If the toy was placed on or near the tool, it was easier for the child to reach his goal, of course. Trials in which a toy was sitting on the blanket, attached to the string, or inside the crook were the easiest problems for the 10-month-olds to solve. The study showed that not until 18 months could the children successfully use a stick to retrieve a toy.