Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Mind of its Own

We can't help it. We are pre-programmed to make inferences and draw conclusions from what we see.

Studies on babies that were videoed and later reviewed showed that even little ones make inferences. In one experiment, these young ones were shown videos of what appeared to be a pole moving back and forth with a board across the middle, hiding the center section. It could have been one pole, or it could have been two separate pieces of wood moving synchronously.

Most adults would assume that the video was of one pole moving with its center hidden. The babies did the same.  

The babies were shown the video of the moving poles with the center obscured over and over until they demonstrated clear signs of boredom. Then the video was shown again, but this time with the board removed. Some babies were shown a video of one pole moving back and forth. Others were shown a video where there was a gap behind where the board had been, and that there were actually two poles moving back and forth at the same time.

The lack of surprise in the babies who were shown the video of one pole, contrasted with the obvious surprise shown in the faces of the babies who saw the two poles, led the researchers to conclude that the babies did, indeed, infer what was behind the obscuring board. They clearly expected to see just one pole. (Pure Reasoning in 12-Month-Old Infants as Probabilistic Inference, Erno Téglás, 2011)

Other experiments have been done that illustrate babies' inherent expectations of connections and their surprise when those connections were shown to be false. We start forming relationships and inferences about our surroundings very early in life.

Is it any wonder that we sometimes draw incorrect conclusions?