At birth, human babies seem pretty helpless. They can’t even hold up their own heads, let alone fend for themselves. Other mammals get up and walk within hours of their birth, but humans remain pretty much immobile for months. However, babies can do some surprising things. Prepare to be amazed by your infant’s capabilities, and don’t miss the one misnomer about babies many of us probably believe.
1. Babies can fake cry
If you thought babies only cried when they needed something, you thought wrong. Japanese researcher Hiroko Nakayama filmed two babies in their homes for 60 minutes twice a month, for six months. One baby only ever cried after becoming distressed. The other one, however, once cried after laughing and smiling, with no apparent upset. “[That baby] appeared to cry deliberately to get her mother’s attention,” said Nakayama. “She showed smile immediately after her mother came closer.”
Next: Your child could also be more perceptive than you think.
2. Older babies can identify humans
According to Reader’s Digest, 6-month-old and 12-month-old babies viewed pictures of cartoon human faces, some with zombie-like eyes and others that looked more normal. Just like adults, the 12-month-olds spent longer looking at the faces with normal eyes. Researchers reported this shows that by age 1, infants experience the “uncanny valley” effect – also known as an aversion to creatures that appear “almost human.”
Another study found that 3-month-olds preferred human faces or bodies than the bodies or faces of primates. That suggests that babies already understand what humans look like, at least to some degree.
Next: Babies also understand this basic principle.
3. They already understand how the world works
Yes, they get fooled by peek-a-boo. But human infants also arrive with some expectations about how the world works, according to researchers. A 2009 study found that 5-month-olds use enact some cues to tell whether a material appears solid or liquid. Once they figure it out, they further demonstrate expectations for the substance’s behavior. “These experiments begin to clarify the beginnings of naive physics,” the researchers said.
Next: Do you think babies can’t remember anything? Wrong.
4. They can recall experiences even from the womb
One experiment asked expecting mothers to read The Cat in the Hat aloud twice a day during their last six weeks of pregnancy. Shortly after birth, participating newborns actually appeared to prefer that book over others. Amazingly, the babies did not seem to care who read it. They appeared to prefer that book over other stories, even when a different baby’s mother read it to them. So be careful what you say while pregnant — someone could be listening in.
Next: Babies actually demonstrate this judge of character.
5. Even infants know who to trust
You probably already know how well babies imitate others. But they do discriminate who they choose to mimic. HuffPost reports that, at around age 1, they keep track of adults’ credibility. One study demonstrated this when scientists paired infants with adults who peeked into a box, expressed excitement, and then invited their partners to do the same. Some partners’ boxes contained a toy, others did not. The infants only agreed to peek into the box when they deemed the adults “trustworthy.”
Next: They want to help you out, too.
6. Babies naturally want to help others
Some evidence supports babies’ natural altruism. When researchers put 1-year-olds in situations in which a stranger either struggled to open a door with full hands or tried to pick up an object, the babies tried to help. The infants picked up the object for the stranger or tried to help open the door. However, evidence also suggests that rewarding infants for this behavior actually hinders future helpfulness. Evidently, the good deed really is its own reward.
Next: Even the youngest of our species knows right from wrong.
7. They gravitate toward goodness before a year on Earth
By six months of age, babies understand the difference between right and wrong. Researchers had infants watch a puppet push a ball up a hill and a second puppet either help or prevent it. Later, babies preferred to play with the helping puppet. Some pushed away the mean puppet, proving they recognized its actions. In addition, babies as young as three months looked longer at the nicer one, showing they possess a conscience even at that age.
Next: Babies also possess superhuman grips.
8. Just like baby monkeys, humans can really hold onto things
Babies will reflexively grip onto things due to the palmar grasp. It kicks in when you stroke an infant’s palm or place anything in her hand — go ahead and try it! In 1891, one researcher decided to test their strength by dangling 60 different newborns from a walking stick. He discovered that most could hang on for at least 10 seconds, and one even hung on for two minutes and 35 seconds. We do not recommend you try this part at home.
Next: Babies also possess this surprising skill.
9. Your baby can actually read lips
Many parents rejoice when their babies first start making eye contact, but they also stare at another part of your face for an even better reason. Starting at about 6 months old, babies start looking at lips to figure out how to make sounds.
Researchers discovered this by studying babies at ages 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 months old. At 4 months old, babies stared at the speakers’ eyes to bond with their parents. At 6 months, they split their gaze between the eyes and mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds focused totally on the mouths. By 12 months, they switch back to eye contact, unless the speakers use a different language. Then, they go right back to staring at the mouths, in an effort to learn those sounds.
Next: You might not want to try this one at home, either.
10. Newborns can hold their breath and swim by instinct
A group of brave scientists decided to dip 36 newborns’ faces into water, and the babies proved they instinctively knew how to hold their breath. Many even came out giggling and smiling. In a separate experiment, researchers asked parents to hold their babies in the water, legs side down. The babies began kicking and moving their legs in a doggy-paddle motion, and actually stayed afloat.
Interestingly, newborns know how to dive and swim by instinct but the knowledge does not last. When we turn 6 months old, around the same time fear kicks in, we lose that ability. So much for tossing kids into the water and expecting them to swim.
Next: Starfish and your child have this in common.
11. They can regrow parts of their fingers
When a little girl went to the doctor with a severed middle finger tip, Dr. Christopher Allan could not figure out how to reattach it. They just left it that way, and when she came back, it had grown on its own. “Kids will actually regrow a pretty good fingertip, after amputation, if you just leave it alone,” the doctor said. Further research proved that babies and young kids can really regrow fingertips, as long as the cut does not go past the nail.
Next: Do your kids get really sugar high? Here’s why.
12. Children’s bodies process sugar differently than adults’
Research showed that not only do kids go nuts for sugar, but it actually works as a natural pain reliever. Their bodies crave it, and that need goes far deeper than older people’s. Scientists conducted an experiment in which they gave kids glasses of water mixed with sugar. They asked the participants to let them know when it got too sweet. However, the youngest participants never really tapped out. By the end of the experiment, they basically drank glasses of straight sugar, and still wanted more.
Next: Yes, your newborn can actually crawl.
13. Newborns will automatically crawl towards a breast
If you have superhuman patience, you can really see your newborn crawl. If a baby gets hungry enough, she will crawl toward a breast even immediately after birth. Researchers conducted an experiment in which they cleaned, dried, and laid babies on their mothers’ chests without feeding them. For the first 15 minutes, the children did nothing. But after a time, they began spontaneously sucking the air. By the end, the babies actually crawled over to the mother’s nipple and started sucking.
Next: This instinct might protect your baby from attackers.
14. Babies speak dog — sort of
A study found that 6-month-old babies can understand a dog’s barks, regardless of whether they have met them before. Researchers played recordings of angry and friendly dog barks to the babies, while showing them pictures of happy and angry dogs. The participants looked at the happy dog when they heard a happy bark and the angry dogs when they heard an angry one. In other words, they instinctively understood what the dog tried to “say.” That said, the babies did not necessarily demonstrate fear or self-preservation skills.
Next: Those of us struggling with weight loss might crave this skill.
15. It’s literally impossible for newborns to get fat
If you think your baby is getting a little chunky, don’t worry. Newborns come with something called “brown fat” that burns calories really quickly. It also covers 5% of the infant’s body mass. This fat keeps babies warm in the cold, and produces heat to burn calories. Some scientific efforts involve trying to harness these fat-burning powers for adult human weight loss. However, they have not yet figured it out. Soon, we hope!
Next: Finally, this is one myth that had a lot of us fooled.
16. Yes, babies do have kneecaps
Rumors have long circulated that babies arrive in the world without kneecaps. But that’s just not true. Babies just don’t have hard kneecaps. Pediatric occupational therapist Anne Zachry, PhD, explained that an infant’s kneecaps contain soft cartilage, which provides wiggle room for early growth spurts. The kneecaps get firmer throughout childhood, as that cartilage forms into bone.
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