What's Your Baby Thinking?

As you gaze lovingly at your beautiful baby, you know in your heart that there's a lot more in that little head than meets the eye. In fact, you're quite sure she's brilliant.

Are these parental perceptions just a figment of an adoring parent's imagination, or is your baby's brain really hard at work? Is your baby actually thinking?

You'll be happy to know that babies do think-probably more than we give them credit for. Advanced imaging technology and well-designed experiments with babies and toddlers give scientists a good understanding about what they are thinking at different stages in their early development (a lot) and how they learn. According to the authors of The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind, babies draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations, and do experiments. The authors call a baby's brain the "most powerful learning machine in the universe."

Sue Hespos, child development expert at Northwestern University, says that infants as young as two months seem to have expectations about diverse event categories. As they interact with the world, they expand their knowledge through experience with objects in their everyday environment. For example, at four months, infants have expectations about how much an object should be hidden when someone lowers it behind another object.

Your baby is thinking all the time, gathering information, picking up patterns, and thinking about how objects behave and interact. They learn distinct concepts and patterns at very early ages. When you play peek-a-boo with your baby, for example, he learns that things still exist even when he can't see them. This is called object permanence.

You can help your baby develop her thinking abilities through your daily interactions with her.

Talk to her. Talking has a bigger impact on developing minds than other sounds. Words help babies categorize visual images. Experts urge parents to use real words, not baby talk, when talking to their baby.

Read to her. By only three months of age, babies already benefit from having you read stories to them.

Use everyday activities as learning opportunities. Even simple actions, such as dropping a toy, or pouring water from a container helps your baby learn about cause and effect.

Show her affection. Affection makes your baby feel safe and secure and creates an ideal environment for learning.

Scher, Hagar. "What Is Your Baby Thinking?" Parents.com. Web.

Gopnik, Alison, Meltzoff, Andrew N., and Kuhl, Patricia K. "The Scientist in the Crib
What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind." Book excerpt. Web.

Hespos, Susan J., and vanMarle, Kristy. "Everyday physics: How infants learn about objects and entities in their environment." Invited manuscript for Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, Cognitive Science (2010). Web. http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/infantcognitionlab/Physics6.pdf

Black, Rosemary. "Look who's talking! Parents who want smarter babies should use words, not babyspeak." New York Daily News. Web. 25 March 2010. http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2010/03/25/2010-03-25_look_whos_talking_parents_who_want_brainer_babies_should_use_words_not_babyspeak.html