London - Many an alpha mom has hoped buying the latest gadgets will turn her baby into the next Einstein.
But a new study suggests pushy parents may have little effect on their child’s development.
Research in the US has shown how seven- and eight-month olds “filter out” information they see as too complicated and concentrate on what they can handle.
Scientists showed babies a series of images appearing on a screen to see which ones captured their attention for the longest.
When the pattern of images became too predictable, as expected the babies quickly got bored.
But to the scientists’ surprise, when events on screen were “too surprising” they were not enthralled either, but simply turned off.
Neuroscientists at Rochester University in New York say there is a “Goldilocks effect” where babies know what is “just right” to challenge them, but is not too hard to understand.
It is yet more evidence that babies are learning a great deal about the world long before they begin to walk and talk.
One of the study’s authors Richard Aslin, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, said: “One implication is that infants are not passive recipients of information, they are seeking out the information that best matches their capabilities.
“It’s like if you tried to teach a six year old calculus they would just have no idea what you’re talking about, it would be way too complicated, but adding one and one would be way too simple.
“They need something that’s a little bit beyond their capabilities in order to challenge them.”
The researchers used a gaze tracking device below the computer screen to see where they were looking.
The babies, sitting on their parents knee, were shown three boxes with different objects, such as toys, coming out of them.
When they got bored and looked away, the scene changed. They seemed to prefer it when the patterns on screen were complex enough to be interesting, but not so unexpected that they couldn’t be understood, according to the study published in the journal PLoS ONE.
Aslin added: “You would think that the more complex something is, the more interesting it would be, That’s not the case with babies. They are not passive sponges, they are active information seekers looking for the best information they can find.”
However he said pushy parents would not do their baby any harm. “Infants are learning all the time, as long as they have reasonably stimulating environments. They focus on what they can handle and filter out the rest.”
Lead author Celeste Kidd added that children learn best from human interaction rather than the latest toys.
She said: “Parents don’t need to buy fancy toys to help their children learn. They make the best use of their environment. They are going to look around for what fits their attention level.”
Over the past 20 years, a lot of scientific research has been done suggesting that infants learn quickly and “have capabilities way beyond what we thought they had”, Aslin said.
A study last year by scientists in Pennsylvania, using a similar gaze tracking method, found babies could identify the words for food and body parts at just six months old. – Daily Mail