Your Brilliant Baby in Week 20: Understanding Trajectory
What your infant learns this week
Baby’s Brain in Week 20
Note how intently Baby tracks the dog darting across the lawn in front of her, or the way the vacuum passes along the carpet and around furniture. At about five months, your child is enraptured by the way objects move across the floor and ground. But why?
As you know, infants’ lives are all about survival—and they’ll likely survive with more ease if they can predict how objects move and whether that movement may affect them. Once babies make these predictions (and those guesses are verified after much trial and error), they become more comfortable with happenings in the world around them—and they’re free to satisfy their curiosity about other matters in the home environment.
From the following study, researchers know that five-month-old babies are highly interested in trajectory, the path a moving object follows through space. Five-month-olds were placed in front of a screen. They could see a toy car being pushed from one side of the screen, and watched as the car then would travel behind the screen and soon reappear on the other side. The researchers would repeat the car’s path several times.
Then the researchers enacted the same sequence again, except this time they stopped the car from reappearing on the other side of the screen. When they did so, the babies would appear perplexed: “Where did the car go?” They sensed something was wrong, as by now they understood the car’s trajectory and expected it to reappear as always.
Taking the experiment one step further, researchers then pushed a car behind the screen and had a toy duck come out on the other side. The five-month-old babies didn’t care. Even though a completely different item appeared after they saw the car disappear, they didn’t flinch. They were expecting something to reappear but didn’t care what it was. Movement alone was what these five-month-olds were concentrating on and learning about.
Further trials revealed that when babies who are a bit older—12 months—see a car go in and a duck come out, they are perplexed. By one year, babies are able to focus not only on movement but also on what is moving.
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