Your Child's Brain in Week 72
About 10 weeks ago, your baby was wary—OK, sometimes terrified—of robots. Even somewhat human-looking machines would scare young toddlers because they couldn't quite distinguish the robots as animate or inanimate. And as children in their second year are trying to categorize and better understand the world around them, things that resemble people but behave like inanimate objects are, well, definitely confusing, to say the least.
But what if a robot looked like a machine but behaved like a human? Would your own toddler respond any differently? Here's what researchers found—and what it all means.
What the Research Shows
In a research setting, 12- to 15-month-olds watched two faceless brown robots (we'll call them robo-blobs), which moved about an obvious front-to-back axis. One of the blobs would react with chirps when the children in the study made a noise; it also lit up if a child moved. The other blob also chirped and lit up, but did so randomly, unrelated to the actions and behaviors of the child. Researchers watched as the children babbled and gestured more to the blob who responded when they vocalized or moved than to the blob that didn't.
Then the researchers had the blobs move on its axis so that it appeared to stop moving suddenly and focus its "gaze" at an object. The children followed the gaze of the blob that had responded to their earlier actions and sounds, but didn't pay attention to the other robot, which had chirped and flashed randomly.
Researchers found this fascinating: It seemed that since the one blob had responded as a person would to the children's movements and noises, the toddlers thought that robot would also be able to see just as a person sees in order to respond to them. And if that blob had a gaze worth following, the children likely surmised that it also intents, interests, or goals—just like they knew their own parents and other real humans to have. And the other non-interactive robot? It wasn't worth any attention at all, according to these children's reactions.
Week 72 Brain Booster
At this age, your child is determining who has a mind and who doesn't. People do and objects don't—but certain objects with animate attributes can, for now, fool even a toddler. It's apparent that your toddler responds best to things (and people!) that are responsive to and communicative about his own words and actions. Continue throughout this year to be attentive to your child's cues for care, and engage him as much as possible in what you do every day: This in turn will make your child responsive to you and will assist him on the developmental road to determining how minds—yours, his own, and others'—interact. Soon, in week 78, you'll learn that parents who are more responsive to their children—as the robo-blobs were in this study—have children who are eventually more likely to comply with their parents' requests.
Curious about how else your toddler might be developing right now? Learn more about her clever brain and her growing body here: