of Washington researchers are studying what makes babies decide the
difference between sentient and inanimate objects, and also how
they interact and learn from these objects, such as robots.
are curious and interested in almost everything their parents do.
They learn and socialize by mimicking an adult's actions. For
instance, if an adult touches their nose to teach the baby where
their nose is, the baby will learn to touch their nose as well when
asked where it is.
Meltzoff, lead author of the study and co-director of of the
University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences;
Rechele Brooks, co-author of the study and a UW research assistant
professor; and Rajesh Rao, co-author and UW associate professor of
computer science and engineering, have studied babies' interactions
with adults and inanimate objects in an effort to understand how they
perceive and learn from different "teachers."
learn best through social interactions, but what makes something
'social' for a baby?" said Meltzoff. "It is not just what
something looks like, but how it moves and interacts with others that
gives it special meaning to
further investigate this question, 64 babies were used in the study
to observe certain interactions. All were around the age of
18-months-old, and were allowed to play with toys for awhile in order
to become comfortable with the experimental setting. Once the babies
were adjusted to this setting, Brooks brought out a
robot" with a torso, legs, arms, head and eyes that were
actually camera lenses. The robots name was Morphy, and was
controlled by a researcher who was hidden from the babies' view.
then followed a script where she interacted with Morphy, asking the
robot questions like "Where is your tummy?" and "Where
is your head?" Morphy would then act accordingly, pointing to
its head and tummy.
90 minutes of interaction, Brooks left the room while Morphy
continued to "move on its own," and researchers measured if
the babies thought Morphy was real or not. Morphy continued to make
subtle movements and sounds to hold the babies' attention, and
results showed that 13 out of 16 babies would follow Morphy's gaze
when it would look at a nearby toy or make a subtle movement. For the
control group of babies who did not witness Brooks playing with the
robot first, only three out of 16 babies followed the Morphy's
are using modern technology to explore an age-old question about the
essence of being human," said Meltzoff. "The babies are
telling us that communication with other people is a fundamental
feature of being human."
study was published in Neural