In the study, researchers programmed a toddler-like robot to behave like the babies they studied and had the robot interact with 32 undergraduate students. They found that the robot got the undergraduates to smile as much as possible, while smiling as little as possible.

"If you've ever interacted with babies, you suspect that they're up to something when they're smiling. They're not just smiling randomly," said Javier Movellan, a research scientist in the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, and one of the study's authors.

"But proving this is difficult," Movellan said.

To find out what babies are really up to, researchers turned to optimal control theory, a tool often used in robotics.

The method allows researchers to design and program robots to perform a specific behavior based on specific goals. In this study, the researchers used the method to reverse engineer what the babies' goals were based on their behavior.

Even though the sample size was small, the findings were statistically strong, said Movellan. The control theory data analysis found that 11 out of the 13 babies in the study showed clear signs of intentional smiling.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

 

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