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Blindfolded babies show ability to learn how others see the world: personal experience leads to social thinking in 1-year-olds.

Infants make sense of the social world from the inside out. By age 1, kids rapidly incorporate visual experiences into a framework for understanding what other people can or can't see, a new study finds.

Personal experience enables social thinking in early childhood, say Andrew Meltzoff and Rechele Brooks, both of the University of Washington in Seattle.

In their experiments, blocking the vision of 1-year-olds with a blindfold led the youngsters to appreciate that a blindfolded adult couldn't see toys on a table, an insight that usually eludes 1-year-olds.

Brief use of a trick, see-through blindfold led 18-month-olds to assume that a blindfolded adult could see objects in plain view, even though 18-month-old children rarely make such a mistake.

"This first-of-its-kind training study shows how infants use themselves and their own experiences to understand the inner lives of others," Meltzoff says. He and colleagues report their work in the September Developmental Psychology.

Speculation that children's actions and experiences shape social cognition extends back more than 50 years, to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Yet little research has explored how personal experiences animate social learning, says psychologist Amanda Woodward of the University of Maryland in College Park.

"Meltzoff and Brooks have conducted one of the first successful efforts to study this phenomenon in the lab," she says.

In the main experiment, 96 healthy 1-year-olds played with pieces of black cloth that had been placed under toys on a table. Children were then randomly assigned to receive no more play time or to play a game in which an experimenter periodically held either of two black blindfolds in front of the children's eyes and asked them to point out certain toys. One blindfold had eyeholes.

Next, infants watched as a blindfolded experimenter turned to face a toy. Video analyses showed that kids given experience with a regular blindfold spent little time following the experimenter's presumed gaze, a sign that they assumed the blindfolded person couldn't see.

Children who had played only with cloth or had used a see-through blindfold persistently looked in the direction of the adult's presumed gaze, acting as if the blindfolded experimenter could see.

The researchers then trained 72 18-month-olds. Children first played with pieces of cloth, some made of mesh that could be seen through. Kids were then randomly assigned to play the game either with a regular or see-through blindfold.

The 18-month-olds followed the assumed gaze of a blindfolded adult for an especially long time only if they had trained with a see-through blindfold.

During training, infants learned about spatial relations among a viewer, a barrier and an object, Meltzoff hypothesizes. The infants then applied this visual knowledge to other people, he suggests.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 27, 2008
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