It's tough to read anyone's mind, regardless of how well you know that person. And when it comes to an infant about to get into the mischievous toddler stage, it sure would be convenient to find out what's going on in Jr.'s noggin, especially when its antics in discovering that big world out there seem to make no sense at all.
For those inquisitive types, be prepared for a big surprise that's been published in a recent edition of the academic journal Science. According to one report in the magazine, European researchers have determined that babies can already make their own reasonable deductions before they are even capable of forming words.
However, for psychologists, the findings are astounding given that they challenge the theories of Jean Piaget, who literally wrote the manual on childhood development, and had concluded those logical properties don't develop until a child has already started attending elementary school.
How scientists came up with these results is intriguing in itself. It's not like a baby can tell you what's on its mind. But the scholars determined that those language skills were irrelevant, when it instead studied eye movements of 48 European babies from 12-19 months, around the time when the youngsters are starting to decipher words and trying to master speech motor control.
"One of the central pieces that separate human reasoning from all other forms is to negate a premise, you see that if it's not A, it's something else," said Johns Hopkins psychologist Justin Halberda about the deductive scientific process. "That is quite fancy stuff."
Equally fancy were the tools researchers used for their experiments. For openers, they simultaneously showed electronic pictures of dinosaurs and flowers to their young subjects. Then they hid the images from view and subsequently showed one of the objects at a time. While this was going on, scientists made scans of the babies' eye movements to trace their reactions.
The scan results provided valuable clues to the team. Eye movements revealed that when both images disappeared, the babies started looking for the images. When only one of the pictures showed up, the infants not only became confused, they became preoccupied with looking for the other one.
The reactions are encouraging scientists that cognitive skills develop earlier that previously thought, and may help psychologist determine how and why children less than two years old can think logically.
"It's about launching a whole body of work that's going to emerge over the coming decade," said Halberda. "It's an invitation."
When it comes to analyzing the logic of very young minds, this is heady stuff indeed.