It now appears that babies are doing much more than sleeping, eating and crying. Researchers say newborns are hard at work, even in utero, learning from their surroundings.
To explain more about these findings, Alexandra Kennedy, editorial director of the new magazine, Wondertime, joined The Early Show Monday. She says that while those first weeks with a newborn can be exhausting, parents should realize there is more going on behind those baby blues than might be expected.
Kennedy says research shows that babies are born hard-wired for survival, with a number of learning skills already in place. She brought a list of some of her magazine's findings to share with viewers.
Babies prefer their native tongue
"Ever since they were three months in utero, they've been listening to their mom. That sound transmits through the lungs and they get an incredible education in what their native tongue sounds like," said Kennedy. "So they can distinguish it from other languages. What's also interesting is they have a kind of universal language readiness. So for that first year they are incredibly capable of learning second and third languages. But by about the age of 1 they start to hone in on their own language. But that's why it's easier for a toddler to learn a second language than it would be for me to."
Babies are born to imitate
For this experiment, Kennedy says testers did things like stuck out their tongues to see if babies would imitate, and they did, even babies as young as 42 minutes. This "says not only that a baby can imitate, which of course is going to be an incredible survival skill, but a lot of people think it indicates they recognize they are human, that this person they are looking at is human like they are, that they are born with a sense of that," said Kennedy.
Babies know and prefer the human face
Babies love looking at contrasts and the human face offers plenty, from the hair to the face, the whites of the eyes to the pupils. But "babies will, most of all, prefer their mother's face," said Kennedy. "That's a survival skill." She adds that if given the choice of looking at a checkerboard, bull's eye or other high-contrast items, they always prefer faces.
The way experts can measure a baby's preferences is through the use of a pacifier. "When babies are sort of bored and dreamy, they suck away on the pacifier," Kennedy explained. "As soon as they see something exciting that really captures their interest, they stop."
Babies can combine senses
This means that a newborn can put together sight and touch. To demonstrate this, each baby was given a pacifier to suck on, but the babies didn't get to actually see the pacifier before it went into their mouths. The pacifiers had different textures, ranging from nubby to smooth. When they were later allowed to choose, the babies always opted for the pacifier they had used before, but hadn't seen.
"They got a sense of what it might look like and whey they saw it they recognized it," said Kennedy. "So they combined touch and sight."
Babies recall what they hear
As an example, researchers had mothers read "The Cat in the Hat" to their babies while in-utero. Then, after birth, the babies' preference always seemed to be the book they had already heard and were familiar with. Experts say this also relates to music and is important evidence of how much babies learn while inside the womb. They're not just hanging around, Kennedy says, they're taking in as much as they can.