Effects of early learning experience on infants' exploration skills  [presentation, pdf, 1965 kB]

Tsolo M., Needham A., Libertus K.
First author's affiliation: Center for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College, London, United Kingdom

We explored whether enrichment of infants’ early experiences as agents able to act on objects would have an effect on their object exploration skills. Three-month-old infants were given the opportunity to reach for and ‘grasp’ objects while wearing “sticky mittens”: mittens with palms that stuck to the edges of toys and allowed the infants to pick up the toys. The effects of this experience on their object exploration behavior were assessed by comparing their exploratory skills before and after the experience with the infants freely exploring a gummy teether. Their skills were also compared to the skills of another group of infants of the same age (control group), who did not actively manipulate the objects but were just passive observers of objects’ movements. We predicted that the looking and reaching behavior towards objects will increase in the experimental group after they have received the simulated experience of reaching. The results indicated that after the learning experience infants in the experimental group became more interested in the object, indexed by significantly longer looking in the second than in the first test phase, and also compared to the control group at the second test phase. We also examined infants’ latency to touch once an object had been introduced and while the two groups did not differ significantly in the first phase, latency in the second phase dropped considerably in the experimental group but not in the control group. These measures provide a demonstration of the experimental group infants’ increased interest in the object and a decreased interest in the external environment following their experience with “sticky mittens”. This suggests that the learning experience with mittens and the new ability to bring objects closer to their faces motivated babies to keep their attention on the object.