Staring, Squirming Is Adaptive Behavior for Infants

Article excerpt

Staring and squirming by infants might not be as random or meaningless as they seem, says a Cornell developmental psychologist. Rather, the link between the two could prevent infants from getting visually stuck and allow them to "visually forage" the environment.

This suggestion stems from findings at Cornell that human - and some animal - newborns and fetuses seem to engage in recurring cycles of motor activity.

"Our studies suggest that these cycles may be an inherent characteristic of babies' nervous system development that allows them to process more information from the environment," says Steven Robertson, professor of human development.

Applying techniques from physics, engineering, and mathematics to infant behavior, Robertson has developed mathematical models that accurately simulate key properties of infant motor activity and visual attention. The models have, in turn, suggested other properties (such as hysteresis - a lag effect) that may be very important but have not previously been appreciated, Robertson says.

For example, Robertson and a group of graduate and undergraduate students who work in his laboratory studying eye movements of one- and three-month-olds, have discovered an important pattern. …