New Study Shows Babies Understand Performance Goals

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performance goals babies baby
tookapic | Pixabay.com

A joint study from MIT and Harvard suggests that infants can judge the value of a goal for someone according to the effort they’re willing to put into achieving that goal.

Past research has shown that adults, and even older children, analyze the efforts they need to make and the expected benefits regarding goals they have set.

In fact, many people would agree that as humans, we invest consistent effort only when we deem the benefits worthy. In other words, we work hard for the things we value.

But now, it seems that we develop the ability to distinguish how hard someone works to achieve a goal that they value at a much younger age.

Babies also demonstrate this almost inherent ability, according to recent joint research by MIT and Harvard psychologists.

Intuitive intelligence develops in the early months of infancy.Click To Tweet

“Early” Intuitive Intelligence

Humans also judge the actions of others in relation to their intentions. For example, during a trial, the defendant is likely to be judged not only by their actions but also on their intentions.

This attitude is also well anchored in our social, religious and legal systems, through a process called institutionalization. Institutionalization refers to the process of embedding some conception (for example a belief, norm, social role, particular value or mode of behavior) within an organization, social system, or society as a whole.

When we see a waving hand, we can tell what’s behind this action: it’s not just an object moving around in space. It could mean hi, goodbye, or even stop. Somehow, we’re able to translate what each of these means (and when) almost instinctually.

This intuitive ability, which lets us understand most of Emojis, for example, is engrained in our cognitive system since the early infancy.

Understanding when and how intuitive psychology develops is a key research project at CBMM (Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines), a joint research institution created by MIT and Harvard.

In one of the four research projects studying the mechanisms of intuitive psychology, CBMM researchers investigated the question of whether babies can evaluate goals taking into consideration the effort required to achieve them.

CBMM team showed several animated videos to 10-month-old babies, where a red agent (in the form of an animated bouncing ball) has to overcome different barriers (walls or gaps) in order to get to the blue agent.

Babies can Tell how Badly you Want Something

According to CBMM study published in Science magazine, 10-month-old babies can evaluate goals according to the efforts needed to attain them.

Infants can judge agents motivation by observing how hard they’re trying to achieve their goals, and they do so by performing a sort of effort/ benefit analysis. In other words, humans develop decision-making strategies at a very young age.

“Across two experiments, infants reasoned jointly about effort and value.” said authors of the paper, “We found that 10-month-old infants successfully derived the relative value of two potential goals from evidence that an agent was willing to take a higher cost for one goal than the other, and used it to predict an agent’s choice between them… suggesting that rich variables like cost and value, rather than features like path length or action duration, support their judgments.”

10-month-old infants have successfully derived the relative value of two potential goals and used it to predict an agent’s choice between them… suggesting that cost and value drive their judgments.

Though the study shows that babies, just like adults, not only can evaluate the costs and benefits of actions but can also establish a link between them, it doesn’t provide answers as to how infants develop this intuitive intelligence and when exactly.

The CBMM research team is planning another study, where they’ll replicate the experiments with three-month-old babies this time, which would give them further insights into intuition and how it works.

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