See Inside July 2010

How Babies Think

Even the youngest children know, experience and learn far more than scientists ever thought possible


Thirty years ago most psychologists, philosophers and psychiatrists thought that babies and young children were irrational, egocentric and amoral. They believed children were locked in the concrete here and now—unable to understand cause and effect, imagine the experiences of other people, or appreciate the difference between reality and fantasy. People still often think of children as defective adults.

But in the past three decades scientists have discovered that even the youngest children know more than we would ever have thought possible. Moreover, studies suggest that children learn about the world in much the same way that scientists do—by conducting experiments, analyzing statistics, and forming intuitive theories of the physical, biological and psychological realms. Since about 2000, researchers have started to understand the underlying computational, evolutionary and neurological mechanisms that underpin these remarkable early abilities. These revolutionary findings not only change our ideas about babies, they give us a fresh perspective on human nature itself.

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