Babies Teach Psychology Researchers about Perception, Learning

Oct 28, 2014

What can a four-month-old teach college students and faculty about learning? According to Dr. Wayne Mitchell, associate professor of psychology at Missouri State University, there is much to learn from these infants.

For example: You’re driving on the Interstate with traffic all around you. In tiny increments of time, you are cognitively aware: That’s a red Accord. That’s a blue Camry. That’s a semi. That's a DeLorean with a flux capacitor.

But wait — a DeLorean with a flux capacitor has moved next to you. It catches your attention … and in all likelihood, you take longer looks at the DeLorean and your heart rate decreases.

 To psychologists, these looks and this change in heart rate are physiological signs that you are having a “response to novelty” and are actively encoding new information. If you saw the DeLorean regularly, it would be what they call a “habitual experience.” Your visual attention to the car would decrease, and changes in your heart rate would not occur.