The Loh Down On Science

Funny Names

Are babies extremely sensible?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Psychologist Sandra Waxman of Northwestern University thinks so.  She says older babies have a knack for imitating behaviors that make sense.  

For example, baby sees mom put a book on a shelf, but mom accidentally misses.  Clumsy mom! Still, baby knows mom meant to shelve the book, so that's what baby imitates.

Of course, babies learn by both observation and language. So Waxman wondered: Does naming a behavior help babies learn what to imitate?

To find out, she sat fourteen-month-olds next to a push light. She told some, “Watch! I’m going to ‘blick’ the light!”  Then she turned on the light with her forehead. To other babies, Waxman only said, "Watch this."

What happened? Later, babies who heard the “blick” explanation were more likely to imitate the forehead push.

So Waxman says naming helps babies learn what’s worth trying.

But, also, training babies to do nonsensical things is a really fun thing to do! But only when you're sleep-deprived.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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