Infants Might Develop Logic Before Language New Study Finds

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Do Infants Develop Logic Before Language?

Study: Infants Might Develop Logic Before Language

Infants may not be able to sound out words, but new research suggests that they might be able to think logically.

The capacity to reason and think logically is one of the few abilities that makes human beings unique within the animal kingdom. However, it is not well understood exactly when we acquire this innate ability.

For decades, developmental psychologists have assumed that children are unable to undergo logical processes until the age of six or seven. However, a new study published in Science indicates that preverbal infants as young as 12-months are now capable of deductive reasoning, a form of logical thinking.

A Little Logic

Depending on who you ask, various types of logical thinking undergird scientific inquiry. The debate has been miscast as one pitting certain scientists against others, like Francis Bacon, who believed that generalizing from our observations was the key to modern science, and others such as Karl Popper, who argued that science was founded on testing hypotheses.

The truth is, both are logic processes that science relies on. However, the real debate is whether our capacity to reason comes from testing hypotheses, which requires language, or from generalizing about the world, which requires the capacity for inference.

Cesana-Arlotti’s study suggests that infants are indeed capable of making logical inferences, like miniature Francis Bacon’s. Specifically, a form of deductive reasoning called the “disjunctive syllogism” (either A or B, A is false, therefore B must be true) is available to babies long before they can speak or understand instructions.

The Toddler Philosopher

It’s hard to tell what preverbal children are thinking, and this explains why scientific research on the early foundations of human logic is so limited. However, the new study was able to make a breakthrough in this regard. By measuring the one voluntary movement that babies do so effortlessly—staring at things—the research team was able to determine their internal thoughts.

The study, led by John Hopkins University researcher Nicolo Cesana-Arlotti, measured the time 12 to 19-month-old babies stared at logical and illogical scenarios. Here is a quick breakdown of the experiment’s methodology:

  • Babies were exposed to computer screens displaying two objects, A and B

  • Both objects were shown to be hidden behind a wall

  • A cup scoops up an object behind the wall, and a small fraction of the object is exposed at the top of the cup

  • The babies are given a moment to think about the contents of the cup before the wall drops down to reveal their expected object still laying behind the wall

  • When the unexpected object is revealed to be behind the wall (Object B), the babies stare as if dumbstruck at the illogical scenario

After numerous trials, babies that were exposed to logical scenarios—that is, when the expected object was revealed behind the wall—they stared for considerably less time and their pupils failed to dilate. By contrast, the illogical outcome elicited a puzzled and stimulated expression on the babies’ faces, a reaction suggestive of their logically-deduced expectation being violated.

Study Conclusions

The logical structure at play in Cesana-Arlotti’s experiment is the process of elimination, which holds that a statement must be true as a logical consequence of another statement being false. This is a uniquely human reasoning ability, and one commonly believed to be reserved for verbal children only.

Cesana-Arlotti’s study implies that logic may be a default setting for babies and small children when at play and observing the world around them. Although this raises questions about how logical processes mature into adolescence and adulthood, it is an empowering idea that even the youngest babies have the innate ability to use logic, reason, and creativity just like adults.

Exploration and Play

Kepler Academy is an innovative child care centre in Edmonton that takes an exploratory education approach to early childhood development. At the Kepler Academy, your children are given a playful learning environment to help them get a head start in life and discover their full potential.

With three convenient locations located in West Edmonton, East Edmonton and downtown Edmonton - Kepler Academy provides a childcare space based on the principles of learning-through-play and discovery. Each of ourday care centres is designed to enable children to explore, survey, and question the developing world around them in a safe, fun, and research-based learning environment.

Our Programs

At Kepler, our Stargazer Program is open to infants between the age of 16 weeks and 18 months, while various other programs are open to higher age groups:

  • Stargazer: Age 16w - 18m

  • Explorer: Age 18m - 3y

  • Navigator: Age 3-5y

  • Pioneer: Age 5-6y

  • Stellar: Age 6-12y

To find out more about the childcare and early learning programs offered by the Kepler Academy, or to enroll your child, visit our registration page today.