Study into How Babies Incorporate New Info Into Their Active Knowledge

Shirley Amy
October 23, 2019

Infants try to comprehend their ever-changing surroundings and unexpected events, and each and every day, they learn all kinds of new things. But how do they add these to their existing knowledge? This is what some of the scientists from the University of Vienna, the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, set about to do, by using nine-month-old baby participants, in a cutting-edge study, published in Psychological Science.


Taking a Look at This Unusual Study

Nine-month-old infants, along with their parents, were asked to attend the laboratory. The parents got their little ones to look at: “short picture stories with either expected or unexpected physical and social outcomes. For example, infants saw a man who was holding a pretzel. In the expected outcome condition, he led the pretzel to his mouth. In the unexpected outcome condition, to violate infants’ expectations, he led the pretzel to his ear”.

Of note, researchers are able to analyze a baby’s processing of fresh information, by gauging their reaction to unexpected, or new things. Previous research studies have already indicated that: “the theta [brain wave] rhythm is important for the integration of novel events in adults”. Theta is regarded as: “the intriguing border between the conscious and the subconscious worlds. While in a theta state, the mind is capable of deep and profound learning, healing and growth”. To that end, the scientists in charge of this new project, wanted to known if the theta brain wave is also responsible for young babies’ ability to integrate new information, when they are confronted by unexpected things.

Different Brain Frequencies

Miriam Langeloh from the Max Planck Institute, noted: “In order to find out how infants integrate new information into their existing knowledge, we looked at the electroencephalogram (EEG) during the presentation of the images”. The EEG is able to gage the electrical signaling inherent if the transference of  information between nerve cells. The signals have variable frequencies, according to the active cognitive processes.

Langeloh continued: “The babies were shown the picture stories very quickly, flickering at a theta or alpha frequency. For example, in the theta condition, the events were presented at a flickering rate of four images per second. The brain areas that are responsible for seeing, synchronized their activity to the speed of the presented images. We were able to show that the brains of the babies, like in adults, respond to the rhythmic presentation of the events”. Note: the alpha state refers to the resting state for the brain. It helps learning, general mental coordination, alertness, calmness, and mind/body integration.

Further, when it came to analyzing how the babies’ brain’s reacted to unexpected and expected outcomes,  Moritz Köster from the Freie Universität, remarked: “Only the theta rhythm was sensitive to the unexpected compared to the expected actions. This shows us that the theta rhythm is responsible for the encoding of novel information in the infant brain. Importantly, in the alpha rhythm, which we looked at for comparison, there was no difference between expected and unexpected outcomes”. To that end, theta waves appear to play afundamental part in the study infants’ integration of new events into existing knowledge,

Shirley Amy

Shirley Amy is a Holistic Health Specialist and professional writer who's published 4 books. Her  interests include optimum wellness, mental health, fitness, and positive lifestyle change. She holds University and College qualifications in the fields of Health Science, Nutrition, Mental Health, Fitness, Holistic Therapy and Aromatherapy.

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