Can being surprised boost babies development? Sam Flatman, an educational consultant at Pentagon Play shares new research which suggests that babies may learn faster when they see something unexpected.

Babies are smarter than you might think. A new paper by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found for the first time that babies make predictions about the world around them and learn new things when their expectations are challenged.

Babies are surprised when they think that one thing will happen, but what actually happens is something else entirely. The research suggests that this is a special moment when learning takes place.

What happens when babies are surprised?

The study of preverbal babies aged 11 months, involved four expectation defying experiments. The experiments aimed to find out whether babies would look for reasons behind surprising behaviours of objects.

The experiments began with researchers showing babies both a predictable situation and then a surprising one. In one example, babies watched a ball roll down a ramp and then stop when it hit a wall. In the second version, the infants saw a ball roll down a ramp but then appear to go straight through the wall.

What happened? The babies that were surprised by the ‘magic’ incident of the ball going through the wall tried to figure out why it happened. The babies hit the ball against a table to see how solid it was, and chose to play with the ball instead of new toys which were introduced.

In another example, babies witnessed a ball hover in mid-air. After seeing this, the infants experimented with dropping the ball to see if it would fall to the floor or hover like before.

What the experts said

According to Lisa Feigenson, a 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.”

Aimee E. Stahl, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, added: “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.”

How can this help your baby?

Why not try out surprising new things at home to see if your baby is more engaged when they feel surprised?

These can just be simple activities like feeling objects inside a box and taking out the objects to let your baby explore the different textures. Fruits like bananas, apples and pears are great for this because they all have varying textures.

Another good activity is changing the colour of water using food dyes. While your baby might expect blue dye to make the water blue and red dye to make it red, would they expect the water to turn purple when those two colours are mixed together?

More by Sam Flatman:

Independent vs Structured Learning
Dads have their own parenting style, but it works too
The Benefits of Playtime for Babies

Author Bio: Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing playgrounds for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. Sam believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which can be integrated into the school curriculum.

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