Your Clever Toddler in Week 56: Wary of Robots
What your child learns this week
Your Child’s Brain in Week 56
Back in week 22, your baby was already noticing that animate objects (the dog, you) move themselves and that inanimate objects (her binky, a ball) need someone or something to propel them into motion. But what about wind-up and battery-powered toys?
Let’s say your friend brings your toddler a bunny that hops when wound. The first time your child sees it jump across the floor, she moves close to you, looking a little weary. Still glued to your leg, she focuses intently on the bunny, then touches it cautiously as it hops by: The bunny sure seems animate. Then she watches, incredulous, as it crashes into the wall—something she’s learned that animate objects don’t do. Your toddler must wonder: Is this “robot toy” animate or inanimate?
What the Research Shows
Researchers presented 9- and 12-month-olds with a two-foot-tall, radio-controlled robot that was dressed in a white T-shirt to cover up his controls. The robot was made to look like a person: It had eyes and a mouth and a body comprised of a single unit with arms and clamp-like hands. The robot was mounted on a base and propelled by wheels.
The researchers examined the reactions of the children under three different conditions: stationary (the robot didn’t move); self-propelled (the robot moved around seemingly on its own); and by commands (the robot moved only when the child’s mother said, “Robot, go there”).
Many of the nine-month-olds and most of the 12-month-olds didn’t react to the stationary robot, but both groups either looked puzzled or frowned when the robot moved by itself or at the mother’s command. Some even responded by crying, fussing, or clinging to their parent—similar to how babies are with new experiences around week 32. They didn’t seem to know what to make of this mechanical device that could move about on its own and would move when their mothers commanded.
Even with the robot’s human-like appearance and self-propelling ability, the children didn’t mentally categorize it as animate. But they couldn’t place it in the mechanical category either, because (after all) it did have some human attributes. Because of the toddlers’ unfamiliarity with this robot, it wasn’t something they understood or felt safe around.
Week 56 Brain Booster
Realize that when your child experiences something new and different, particularly if that new thing moves, he’ll seek you out for comfort and protection. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out new experiences, but rather that when you do, you’ll need to offer your toddler emotional support until he becomes familiar and comfortable with the new experience.
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