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The baby eyes the ball as it rolls down a ramp and through a circle-shaped hole. When the little one gets the chance to touch the ball, it bangs it around, realizing the ball is solid.
This is an example of an experience that motivates a baby to learn. In this instance, the baby discovered that the ball is a solid mass. The surprise of seeing the ball disappear was enough to spark intellectual curiosity in the child, and a recent study suggests that babies are indeed more likely to learn something when they witness a surprising occurrence. In other words, predictable events don't have the same capacity to send your child down the path of exploratory knowledge.
"Our hypothesis was that infants might be using these surprising events as special opportunities to learn, and we show that is indeed the case," said cognitive psychologist Aimee Stahl of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, whose research on this subject appears in the journal Science.
The study followed 110 eleven-month-olds—roughly equal numbers of girls and boys—who watched various demonstrations. The babies were drawn to explore objects that behaved surprisingly, doing so in a way that suggested they were seeking an explanation about the unexpected outcome. By better understanding the outcome through their own investigations, the babies learned more about the things around them.