Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing that babies can make transitive inferences about a social hierarchy of dominance.
“We found that within the first year of life, children can engage in this type of logical reasoning, which was previously thought to be beyond their reach until the age of about four or five years,” says Stella Lourenco, the Emory University psychologist who led the study.
The researchers designed a non-verbal experiment using puppet characters. The experiment created scenarios among the puppets to test transitive inference, or the ability to deduce which character should dominate another character, even when the babies had not seen the two characters directly interact with one another. A majority of the babies in the experiment, who were ages 10 to 13 months, showed a pattern consistent with transitive inference.
“Everybody knows that babies learn rapidly, like little sponges that soak in incredible amounts of knowledge,” Lourenco says. “This findings tells us about how humans learn. If you can reason deductively, you can make generalizations without having to experience the world directly. This ability could be a crucial tool for making sense of the social relationships around us, and perhaps complex non-social interactions.”