|first look at the world
:: making sense
of the unknown
Baby's first look at the world is likely a dizzying array of shapes and motion that are
meaningless to a newborn, but researchers at the University of Rochester have now shown that
babies use relationships between objects to build an understanding of the world. By noting how
often objects appear together, infants can efficiently take in more knowledge than if they were
to simply see the same shapes individually.
"It's long been assumed that we use relationships among parts of scenes to learn which
parts form whole objects, but the idea has never been tested, nor was it clear how early this
ability develops," says József Fiser, co- author with Richard N. Aslin of the research.
"This research shows that building a concept of the world by recognizing relationships among
shapes in images is possibly innate, and a very essential ability in babies."
"In order to make sense of the unknown you must be able to learn new things and represent
them to yourself in an efficient way," says József Fiser, co- author with Richard
N. Aslin of the research. "You don't want a mechanism that will tell you that leaves are
always found on cars just because you happened to see a leaf on a car once. You want a mechanism
that will tell you that cars can exist without leaves and vice versa, while at the same time
telling you that cars always come with wheels, for instance." If a baby sees a leaf on a
car, she would build a relationship between the two, perhaps calling the combination a "leafcar."
But she might then see several cars without leaves on them and so the concept of leafcar is weakened
as she unconsciously realizes that statistically, the concept of leafcar is more and more useless.
Noting that every car she sees has wheels, however, becomes statistically more and more useful
as it is reinforced with every new car she sees. This relationship-identification is important
because the baby can build her knowledge base on it. When she sees a wheelbarrow, she'll unconsciously
note that while all cars have wheels, not all wheels have cars, and a new concept of wheels will
begin to emerge. In this way, the frequency of relationships, and the predictability between
visual objects allows her to build knowledge on knowledge in a hierarchical manner. >from
build knowledge of their visual world on statistics*, november 25, 2002.