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The Goldilocks Effect
May 31st, 2012 Headlines

A new study may change the way parents look at their babies. It offers an intriguing window into how infants learn.

The study documents something called “The Goldilocks Effect”.  In the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks wanted her chair, her porridge, and her bed just right.  A team of scientists from the University of Rochester discovered that babies don’t like information that is too complex or too simple.  Similar to Goldilocks, they like it “just right”.

The study used 72 seven to eight month olds and showed them video animation of objects, like a pacifier or a ball being revealed from behind colorful boxes.  They varied where and when the objects would appear and used an eye-tracking device to follow the babies’ gaze to measure their attention.  If they kept looking at the screen, the video would continue. If they looked away, the video would stop.

The parents of the infants were present, but were not technically involved. The babies sat on their parent’s lap, but the parents could not see or hear what the babies were seeing or hearing. This way, they therefore couldn’t influence how their child behaved.

The results revealed that the babies lost interest when the video became too predictable, or in other words, when they could anticipate what was coming next.  Interestingly, they also lost interest if the sequences were too surprising or too random.

Scientists say this shows that babies learn best when there is a balance between predictability and complexity in their environment.  It might explain why kids like to hear the same story over and over again, which would otherwise drive an adult crazy.  Due to the fact that kids are constantly taking in new things, it allows them to anticipate what comes next based on their prior experience, but also take away something different every time they hear it.

This doesn’t suggest, however, that parents should buy the latest and greatest toys for their little learner. Experts say you don’t need to buy a bunch of fancy toys or videos to help your kids learn, but instead should provide a stimulating environment with a variety of faces, voices, foods, etc.

Between the ages of six to nine months, one big cognitive milestone is something called object permanence. This is where babies are able to recall the memory of a person or an object when that person or object is not present.

Also, babies gain more control of their muscles between six and nine months of age, as the nervous system connections continue to form. By the seventh month, babies can see almost as well as an adult. Babies at this age can often sit alone, may begin to crawl, and can sometimes pull to a standing position.



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