Babies don’t just live in the moment, as previously thought, but instead seem to have particular interests that determine what will hold their attention in the future. The research, led by Daniel Messinger, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, is published in the journal Infancy.
“Previous views of young infants essentially assumed they were primarily affected by what was going on right then,” says Messinger. “The new findings show that the baby is grounded in time and affected by the past, in a surprisingly mature way.”
The research suggests that if infants are able to control their behavior according to past behavior, there may be a building block of intentional actions. This would be necessary for them to develop mental goals later in life.
Messinger and his colleagues examined 13 babies (between four and 24 weeks old) interacting with their moms, during weekly face-to-face interactions. The team viewed a total of 208 interactions and measured how long a baby would stare at and away from its mother’s face.
The researchers found that they could predict the duration of a baby looking at mom based on the duration of the two previous gazes at mom. Longer looks at mom tended to follow longer looks at mom, and shorter gazes followed shorter gazes. The same was true for the duration of the gaze away from mom’s face. Interestingly, the length of time a baby looked at and away from mom were not predicted by one another.
“We found that the duration of infant looking at mother’s face, is related to how long they looked at mother’s face the last time she looked at her, and the time before that,” says Messinger. “In other words, infants are showing ongoing interest that is independent of interest in other things. So infants are coordinating these two patterns of interest.”
The research also supports previous findings showing a decrease in the duration of baby’s gaze at mom, as time progressed. This is probably the result of babies’ expanding awareness of their surroundings, explains Messinger.
“For babies, it may reflect the infant’s increasing familiarity with the mother’s face and their heightening interest in nonsocial features of the environment like their own hands, the lights in the room and whatever’s around,” says Messinger.
“For parents, the challenge appears to be understanding that this does not reflect a decreased interest in them, but merely greater interest in visually exploring the rest of the environment. It’s like a taste of growing children’s increasing interest in the outside world.”
Source: University of Miami