Forget What You Know: Babies Are Way Smarter Than You Think

New studies clearly demonstrate that babies and very young children know, observe, explore, imagine and learn more than we would ever have thought possible. In many significant ways, they are even smarter than adults. I will tell you honestly and quite upfront, this is not the first time I have reported on these sorts of findings. Actually, just a few months back I blogged about how babies, as well as young children, experience the world via an extremely wide spectrum of sensation, as opposed to the miniscule sliver of sentient reality that we adults experience. So why am I treading old ground and covering this subject yet again? Well to draw attention to more elaborate studies by Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, and to remind our adult readers (who may have missed it the first time) what is actually going in the intricate and Byzantine minds of babies everywhere.

As mentioned above, Alison Gopnik, as well as being a psych professor, is also author of the newly published The Philosophical Baby which investigates the exploratory and analytic nature of the young child’s mind. Counter to what was previous assumed, that babies were just blank slates of blooming and buzzing confusion, Gopnik points out that babies have an astonishing capacity for statistical reasoning, experimental discovery and probabilistic logic, which enables them to learn about the myriad of objects and people surrounding them with greater depth and efficiency than previously assumed (I could go into case studies and particular experiments here, but you would be best served reading it first hand rather than slogging through my abbreviated accounts).

The truly notable meaning to gather from all this, is not that we all now need to spend the remainder of our diminishing paychecks on new fangled programs and products that will make our babies even smarter, but we need to encourage babies and toddlers to remain curious and continue to explore their surroundings. At this age, they are not as specifically focused and goal oriented as their eager parents, and the learning they do on their own, when they carefully watch and unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from say, a set of car keys or a cup of spilled water, is radically different than how adults view and consider learning. Babies (and this is the truly wonderfully subversive part of the whole message) can learn an enormous amount from simple items (bowls, blocks, items from nature, etc) and simple interactions, that have nothing to do with “enriching” educational toys, games, and DVDs.

So, clear the decks, save your money and allow your child to learn, not in the rigid way adults do, but in the experiential way young children need to.

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

16 comments

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W.3 years ago

don't need a study to show that. I know before my daughter was born I was prepared for a newborn who wouldn't interact much and be a dependent in every sense of the word and I would have to wait for there to be personality to get to know, prepared for how underdeveloped human babies are compared to animal babies of all species. Well, I started getting to know her in-utero, and as soon as she was born, I was amazed by how human she already was. Same as for my son - so she wasn't a fluke. Both were born themselves, very personable and ready to see the world right from the start. Well, 24 hours after birth, anyway. And yes, very conversational. Not speaking English, but picking it up, and very conversational through body language, looking and signalling.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

@Jade: Thanks for sharing such a moving story!!

Jo Asprec
Jo Asprec5 years ago

Let's enjoy the learning moments with our babies! Have fun!

Bak Min Choi
Bak Min Choi5 years ago

Thank you so much, this articles helps me finding where I am.

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Bon L.
Bon L.5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Brian D.
Brian Drake5 years ago

I knew, almost from birth, that my daughter's smarter then me!

Maria F.
Mia Martin6 years ago

I believe children have a connection we don't have... or lost in our way.
I sometimes stare at my children, just waiting to learn from them...

Kerin Lee
Kerin Lee6 years ago

Babies are brilliant. Just have to open your eyes!

Jesse C.
Jesse C.6 years ago

my baby has been tracking me and my botfriend with her eyes since day one... babies a are geniuses!!!