Babies are stupid. And America has seen an unfortunate increase in the number of ugly babies (I couldn’t find a scientific study to back it up, but we are just one randomized unblinded study paired with anecdotal evidence away from revealing that truth). While we await data on ugly babies, it is important to find out just how intelligent babies actually are (primarily so we can say “at least they are smart”).
First, let us observe the duckling to provide background for human infant intelligence. As demonstrated in this video by ScienceMag, ducklings will follow whatever is moving after it is born and identify it as their mother. This is an instinct that has been developed over time and is a means of survival for the ducklings. The video demonstrates the newborns following various shapes with various colors. The first object that the duckling saw, it would follow. When these shapes were taken out, randomized, and returned to the rink, the duckling found the same shape/color combination and followed it. Although this data is anecdotal and has not amassed into a broad set of data, its consistency proves that the ducklings’ instincts were engrained into them.
Human babies, although not as blindly obedient as the duckling, have a similar impulse. In an article by Dr.Gwen Dewar, it is revealed that babies use identification methods similar to ducklings. They can analyze a face and identify it with “mother” just as the duckling does with a certain shape/color.
Dr. Bushneil performed an experiment in the late 1980’s to prove this theory.
40 random babies were chosen for the study (20 Male, 20 female). The babies were between 12-36 hours old. In order to attain the best possible results, the babies were out of the mother’s care after the standard 24-hour care period when the baby was born. This is so parental recognition would not be due to standard facial recognition. In a very controlled setting (no gender bias, brightness differentiation, smell), the babies were placed in front of a screen where the mother sat alongside a stranger. The observer then recorded which person the babies were “fixated” on. When the babies attention was on a certain subject for a total of 20 seconds, then it was determined that the baby had recognized the face.
Bushneil’s belief that newborns could recognize faces was confirmed by the study. The babies consistently focused their attention on their mother, proving that they have the capability to develop facial recognition in only a few hours.
This experiment was well performed because it has controlled many factors and made an effort to limit the amount of exposure that the baby has to the mother prior to the study. However, it would be interesting to see if the babies would be able to identify their mothers if they hadn’t spent more than a few moments with them. Obviously, this presents ethical issues, but it would present a stronger representation to ducklings. If the baby was given to another lady after birth, would the baby instinctually fixate on her? or even a him? That would provide evidence of a stronger link between mother and newborn than Bushneil’s study reveals.