Moved to the minus sixth grade
For fourteen and a half years now, a group of researchers has believed that even babies can put two and two together. And another group believes that the first group can't do just that - misinterpreting longstanding false results. New children's experiments should now settle.
Lisa and Tamina, Julia and Marie - barely a year old, already members of the merciless meritocracy. The proud mums and dads are rarely to blame. The overly benevolent ones from the distant, but all the more sympathetic living environment are to blame. Maybe the neighbor: "How, she still can't turn on her stomach on her own? Well, Kevin, he could do it much earlier." Maybe the friendly woman on the bus: "Sweet. Very sweet. And the dress. But of course she should be able to speak a little better now, at only one and a half years old. Well, Lina von Schulzes from Rosengasse, she's already babbling like…"
It's a good thing that Lina, Kevin, Pauline and the rest of the hoped-for pensioners of tomorrow don't even understand where the problem is - it will still take a while before they can even pronounce the very complicated word "problem". Admittedly, the big ones are clearly better at finding the problems that they then solve. For example, Andrea Berger from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and her colleagues. The researchers said to themselves "Never underestimate a six-month-old" and then developed a completely new test to determine the cognitive performance of problem-solving baby brains. She asks, can an average Kevin who is six months old already count?
In the math test of the six-month-olds, however, there are a few typical communication problems: At six to nine months - so "Image" were 24 Tobi and Pauline guinea pigs tested in the laboratory of the scientists - one can still do one thing not really good: answer. And understanding what you're supposed to be doing here and why you're supposed to sit still for so long isn't quite working yet. alt="
However, this has never stopped researchers from giving babies tasks in the laboratory and drawing conclusions from them. Babies can do something else like clockwork: look. And they regularly look longer at things that interest them. And they are particularly interested in everything that is new and surprising. Ergo, an experiment with the youngest of all volunteers usually looks like this: the direction and duration of the little ones' gaze are measured. If you take a long look at a situation presented to your eyes, you will recognize something special in it. And if you offer them cleverly selected situations, this allows conclusions to be drawn about what special features the children perceive as special.
The arithmetic test goes like this: You take two stuffed animals and show them to an interested Kevin. Then you slide a screen in front of it - which doesn't bother Kevin, because he can "object permanence" after about three and a half months: He knows that not seeing the two animals anymore doesn't mean that they are no longer there at all. If the hand of a friendly scientist rummages around behind the screen, grabs something, comes out with a little animal and takes it with her, then there are still - eh, how many stuffed animals behind the screen? Wait.
For Kevin, there could still be two object-permanent plush things behind the privacy screen. Or is there one missing? A clever Pauline might be able to calculate it: if one gets rid of one, then there must be two minus one little animal left over – that is, one. This is exactly what Berger and Co wanted to know, i.e. whether children with an average age of seven and a half months can master simple subtraction: They pulled away the screen and measured how long the mini-test subjects looked at the stuffed animals that were now visible behind them. In half of the cases there was really only one stuffed animal - otherwise the scientists cheated and unnoticed replaced the one that was taken out with a spare, so that two stuffed animals turned up anyway.
The latter situation actually threw the young mathematicians a lot more upset, the researchers determined from their data: Apparently, when trying "two cuddly toys minus one", the children really expected the correct result "makes one" and an incorrect result rounded frowned a second longer. So kids can count?
Up to this point, the result of Berger and co would not be completely convincing for the world of all toddler cognition experts. Since 1991, there has been disagreement among them about the supposed arithmetic skills of young children – some researchers simply do not believe that the time that babies look at things really means anything and that reliable conclusions can be drawn from it. So Berger's team also observed the child candidates with an electroencephalograph, which recorded the brainwaves of the soother subjects during the test with unprecedented accuracy.
As it turned out, exactly the same thing happens in the brain of the little bewildered ones as in that big one: if something doesn't meet our expectations, this is reflected in typical changes in the brain waves - and precisely these typical changes were also detectable in the small children who had looked at the supposedly wrong stuffed animal result for a long time.
The fact that children can actually make predictions, derive expectations from them and register deviations from these expectations surprises the researchers - because in the behavioral repertoire of children of this age there is still nothing to be seen of them acting insightfully and correcting their own mistakes. According to Berger, however, it could already be possible to perceive them: "The brain structures for error detection are already created in the first year of life."
All young parents who are eager to experiment and performance fanatics can now get to work – stopwatches, stuffed animals and offspring out, and the early math test can begin. But seriously - Lisa and Tamina, Julia and Marie learn arithmetic soon enough anyway. It doesn't matter to the proud dad in the next room anyway: At six weeks, he says, his youngest could smile. It's really more important.