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Infant brains are primed with 'intuitive physics'

The brains of infants come primed with “intuitive physics,” inspite of their seeming helplessness and rounds of eating, crying and sleeping. In a review study from the past 30 years, vanMarle and Susan Hespos of Northwestern University found that the evidence for...

health and fitness Updated: Jan 25, 2012 19:41 IST

The brains of infants come primed with “intuitive physics,” inspite of their seeming helplessness and rounds of eating, crying and sleeping.

“We believe that infants are born with expectations about the objects around them, even though that knowledge is a skill that’s never been taught," said Kristy vanMarle, assistant professor of psychological sciences at the Missouri University's College of Arts and Science.

“Intuitive physics include skills that adults use all the time. For example, when a glass of milk falls off the table, a person might try to catch the cup, but they are not likely to try to catch the milk that spills out, said vanMarle, who co-authored the study, the journal Cognitive Science reports.

"As the child develops, this knowledge is refined and eventually leads to the abilities we use as adults,” added vanMarle, who co-authored the study, according to a Missouri statement.

"The person doesn’t have to consciously think about what to do because the brain processes the information and the person simply reacts," said vanMarle.

In a review study from the past 30 years, vanMarle and Susan Hespos of Northwestern University found that the evidence for intuitive physics occurs in infants as young as two months - the earliest age at which testing can occur.


At that age, infants show an understanding that unsupported objects will fall and that hidden objects do not cease to exist. Scientific testing also has shown that by five months, infants have an expectation that non-cohesive substances like sand or water are not solid.

In a previous publication, vanMarle found that children as young as 10 months consistently choose larger amounts when presented with two different amounts of food substance.

"The majority of an adult’s everyday interactions with the world are automatic, and we believe infants have the same ability to form expectations, predicting the behavior of objects and substances with which they interact.”

While the intuitive physics knowledge is believed to be present at birth, vanMarle believes parents can assist skill development through normal interaction, such as playing and talking with the child and encouraging him/her to interact with objects.