Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University have found that infants have innate knowledge about the world and when their expectations are defied, they learn best.For young learners, the world is an incredibly complex place filled with dynamic stimuli.

How do learners know what to focus on and learn more about, and what to ignore? "Our research suggests that infants use what they already know about the world to form predictions."When these predictions are shown to be wrong, infants use this as a special opportunity for learning," explained cognitive psychologist Lisa Feigenson, professor of psychological and brain sciences in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

"When babies are surprised, they learn much better, as though they are taking the occasion to try to figure something out about their world," she noted. Feigenson and co-author Aimee E. Stahl did four experiments with pre-verbal 11-month-old babies, designed to determine whether babies learned more effectively about objects that defied their expectations.

If they did, researchers wondered if babies would also seek out more information about surprising objects and if this exploration meant babies were trying to find explanations for the objects' strange behaviour.

The researchers found that the babies did not just learn more about surprising objects -- they wanted to understand them. "The infants' behaviours are not merely reflexive responses to the novelty of surprising outcomes, but instead reflect deeper attempts to learn about aspects of the world that failed to accord with expectations," Stahl explained.

Infants are not only equipped with core knowledge about fundamental aspects of the world, but from early in their lives, they harness this knowledge to empower new learning, the authors noted in a paper published in the journal Science.


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