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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 22: Knowing Which Objects Move Themselves

Baby’s Brain in Week 22

By now your baby is paying close attention to how people and animals, as compared to objects, move. Baby realizes that animate objects (you, the cat, her big brother) move on their own, and inanimate objects (her binky, chairs, the balls she loves to watch roll) move only when carried, pushed, pulled, or tossed by an external agent. Baby seems driven to understand that animate objects engage in self-motion and that inanimate objects don’t.

What the Research Shows

To study whether babies understand the movement abilities of animate and inanimate objects, researchers showed five- to seven-month old children films of a hand picking up a doll. The children habituated (that is, they became used to) to the event even when the babies viewed different hands picking up the dolls and hands moving the dolls in different directions and at different paces.

When babies noticed a small gap between the hand and doll, however—when the dolls looked as if they were moving by magic—the babies recovered interest; they dishabituated to the event.

If these babies in the study had sophisticated language skills, they’d have declared, “This condition just cannot be! It violates the principles I know regarding animate and inanimate objects!” (OK, OK—that baby has very sophisticated skills.) Through this research, though, we know that infants as young as five months understand that inanimate objects need to be carried, pushed, or propelled in motion.

Week 22 Brain Booster

But why would babies care about which objects can move on their own and which need a shove? Well, once infants determine how objects versus people move, they’re not surprised or caught off-guard when they see a new movement for the first time: Immediately, they can place the item in an animate or inanimate category. Once they “get it,” they’re better able to predict movements and, therefore, more competent to organize and mange the world in which they live.

Soon your child will even learn which toys need batteries to move, which need to be wound up, and which require pushing instead of pulling. He’ll see that birds fly on their own because they’re made of biological components but that airplanes need engines. No doubt your child is fascinated by unusual motion—watching and making it—as he grows.

Your Week 22 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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