Scientists: babies are able to predict human behavior

Posted at 7:06 AM, Oct 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-25 07:06:30-04

As adults we have the ability to predict others' behavior.  For example, if we know our friend is thirsty and she reaches for a glass, we can predict she's going to pour herself a drink.  Social scientists are discovering that, with practice, even babies are able to forecast human behavior, an important part of growing up.

One-year-old Camille Walker isn't talking, yet, but mom Laura can often guess what she wants, "Sometimes she’s predictable, and sometimes she’s not.”  And while mom is watching baby for clues, baby is doing the same.

Developmental Psychologists wanted to learn when babies begin to predict the behavior of others and how.  Researchers showed infants a video of a woman reaching for toys.  When the babies watched a similar video that paused, eye-tracking equipment measured exactly where the baby's eyes focused during the pause, “What the eye tracker is doing in this instance is telling us if the baby can predict what the woman is going to reach to before her hand gets there.” 

Researchers also found that if they gave the babies practice reaching for the toys ahead of time, even those as young as 8 months could make predictions.  Sheila Krogh-Jesperson, who is a Developmental Psychologist with a PhD explains, “So just reaching themselves gave them some insight, some ability to think about other people’s intentions.” 

This ability is important because researchers say understanding other people's actions helps babies learn social cues.  Parents can help babies learn to predict actions by letting them safely explore.  Let them hold and manipulate objects like a spoon or a sock.