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Wednesday 30 November 2022
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Babies Can Use Logical Reasoning Before They Can Talk, Research Says

Babies are able to think logically before they’re able to speak, a new study shows. According to new research published in the journal Science, human infants are capable of using disjunctive syllogism, or the process of elimination, thereby concluding that humans don’t necessarily need language to make rational deductions.

In the study, lead author Nicoló Cesana-Arlotti of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University analyzed 48 infants between the ages of 12 and 19 months. It’s at this age, Newsweek reports, that infants are unable to articulate themselves but begin to develop the ability to speak.

The infants were given the task to study animations with two different objects. The objects, a dinosaur and a flower, were then hidden behind a black wall.

In one experiment, an animation would be shown to the participant showing a cup removing the dinosaur. When the wall was lifted, a flower would be in the dinosaur’s place. In another experiment, an illogical combination was provided where the animation would show the cup removing the dinosaur, but the dinosaur would remain when the wall was lifted.

Cesana-Arlotti and other researchers used eye-tracking on the participants, a scientific measure that’s commonly used to measure mental abilities in preverbal children. The study showed that when the participants were provided with the illogical combination the infants stared for a longer period of time, suggesting confusion.

This type of reasoning, called disjunctive syllogism, isn’t the easiest form of reasoning, Halberda said. However, disjunctive syllogism is essential for higher thinking.

“One of the central pieces that separate human reasoning from all other forms is to negate a premise,” said Justin Halberda, a Johns Hopkins University professor who wrote a summary on the study for Science. For instance, if A or B can be true and A is false, then B is true. “If it’s not A, it’s something else. That’s quite fancy stuff.”

The study shows that not only do infants develop logical reasoning early but also that they’re able to make rational decisions without being able to speak yet. This can be incredibly beneficial to human development considering up to 95% of babies will suck their thumb on reflex and therefore may be unable to form words.

This study also supports that children really are capable of high-level reasoning before the age of seven, an age that psychologist Jean Piaget argued was the key age of when children begin to reason on their own.

However, Piaget’s argument has also been refuted in the past. For instance, infants sleep between 10.5 to 18 hours a day and yet have been shown to understand American Sign Language by as young as three weeks.

The study wasn’t only conducted to refute Piaget’s claims regarding children’s logical reasoning. Cesana-Arlotti says their research can also be used to help identify cognitive dysfunctions and disorders in children early on to prevent developmental delays.

“I think many people would say that most of their reasoning happens when they are silently talking to themselves in their heads,” said Halberda. “That this new study reveals is that preverbal infants are also working through this same type of serial reasoning, and doing so before robust language abilities have been mastered.”