Expectations shape infants’ brains: Study

Washington, July 21 (IANS) Infants can use their expectations about the world to rapidly shape their developing brains, shows research.

Portions of babies’ brains responsible for visual processing respond not just to the presence of visual stimuli, but also to the mere expectation of visual stimuli.

“The findings offer insights that can shape future research in the area, ” said Janet Werker, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

“We show that in situations of learning and situations of expectations, babies are in fact able to really quickly use their experience to shift the ways different areas of their brain respond to the environment,” said co-author Lauren Emberson from the University of Rochester.

Earlier, this type of sophisticated neural processing was thought to happen only in adults and not infants as their brains are still developing important neural connections.

The research published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, made a series of experiments with infants aged five to seven months. After exposing the infants to the sounds and images for a little over a minute, the researchers began omitting the image.

In the infants who were exposed to the pattern, brain activity was detected in the visual areas of the brain even when the image didn’t appear as expected.

“We find that the visual areas of the infant brain respond both when they see things, which we knew, but also when they expect to see things but don’t,” Emberson said.

“Most exciting to me is the evidence this work provides that from very early in infancy, the cortex is able to set up expectations about incoming events,” Werker said.

“This shows that infants not only learn about their external worlds, but are ready — from very early in life — to make predictions about the co-occurrence of events on the basis of a very brief previous experience,” Werker added.

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