Have you found yourself wondering why your baby does certain confounding things? Wouldn’t you love to know what your baby is thinking? For instance, after you give your baby a break from tummy time, does your baby instantly roll right back to their tummy even though they are exhausted from that position? A classic baby experiment may give you a new understanding about your baby’s thought process.
In the video linked below, a mom shows her 8m old baby a toy and hides it under one of two handkerchiefs. The baby reaches for the correct handkerchief and finds his toy. Next, the mom clearly shows him that she has moved the toy under the second handkerchief. Even though the baby clearly sees this, he still reaches for where the toy was the first time! Why would he do this even though he saw where it was moved to?
This experiment is referred to as the “A not B error.” The baby reaches for handkerchief A even though he sees that the toy is under B. It’s a phenomenon that only lasts a few months, around ages 8 – 9 months of age. It seems like a strange error to make, since the baby clearly sees the toy moving. Piaget, believed that this error was due to a lack of the concept of “object permanence.” More recently, development researchers have new, and intriguing ideas of what might be happening here.
“In human development, every neural event, every reach, every smile and every social encounter sets the stage for the next and the real-time causal force behind change,” wrote the late Esther Thelen, Developmental Psychologist and Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner. What we may very well be seeing is the interconnectedness of a baby’s body and mind. While the baby’s visual sense takes in the view of the toy in a new location, he has just organized his body to reach successfully under the “A” handkerchief. The motor planning of that previous reach is a neural event that “sets the stage for the next” movement. In a few months this baby will be able to feel that readiness to reach to A, but be able to override that motor-planning history and reach for the correct handkerchief. But for now, the previous act of having planned the reach to “A” is so powerful, that the baby reaches to the wrong place to find the toy.
Similarly the baby who has recently learned to roll over, seems drawn as if magnetically to roll over even when they are very tired of being on their tummy! That new movement of rolling, becomes so “attractive” that they roll even when they seemingly don’t want to do it. After a time, the baby will begin to find other movements or “attractor states” to use Dr. Thelen’s language, and the “magnetism” of rolling over will fade.
While we can never really know what your baby’s experience is, it can be helpful to understand that your baby’s thinking (and emotional life for that matter) is inseparable from his bodily sensations. Because your touch is so much a part of his sensation of his body, it means that you too are an inseparable part of this equation.
See “Cogsci-mom” demonstrate A not B error with her baby – even with see-thru cups!