Babies who reach the age of one may not be able to form complete sentences yet, but they are already able to think logically, according to a new study that documents the earliest foundation of people’s ability to reason.
Scientists from several European institutions decided to study babies from 12 to 19 months. Jean Piaget, famous psychologist whose work in child development remains the cornerstone for early education, believed that logical reasoning abilities in humans did not fully form until the age of seven. The scientists scanned the eyes of 48 babies and found that they were able to conduct reasoning through the process of elimination, The Verge reports.
The type of reasoning – the process of elimination – that the scientists used is formally known as disjunctive syllogism. It runs on the premise that if only A or B can be true, and A is false then B must be true. Following this, if a toy is either red or blue, and it is not red, it must therefore be blue.
Nicoló Cesana-Arlotti, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and lead author on the study, said in Scientific American,
Our research aims to investigate the earliest foundations of our ability to reason logically, a major basis for learning, creativity and flexibility in the human mind.
The scientists let the babies look at little animations. They saw two different objects, like a flower and a dinosaur. Then both objects hid behind a barrier. An animated cup then took away one of the animations, like the flower, and took away the barrier. Logically, only one animation would remain – in this scenario, the dinosaur. But sometimes, both animations, or the flower remained.
Tracking the babies’ eye movements, the scientists found that the children stared longer when the flower was in place instead of the dinosaur, indicating confusion. Researchers often use eye movements to measure reactions in babies who are still unable to talk.
This means that this is an area that could be used to diagnose cognitive disabilities and abilities in very young children. Cesana-Arlotti said, “To our knowledge, nobody has ever directly documented logical reasoning in 12-month-old infants before. The exploration of the initial state of logic in the mind is a very exciting enterprise.”
The study was published in the journal Science.