Why do babies smile?
Babies smile with a purpose — to make the person they interact with smile in return, according to a research team from the University of California San Diego.
“If you’ve ever interacted with babies, you suspect that they’re up to something when they’re smiling. They’re not just smiling randomly,” said study author Javier Movellan, research scientist at the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California San Diego, in a news release. “But proving this is difficult.”
To do so, researchers programmed a toddler-like robot to behave like the babies they studied and had the robot interact with undergraduate students. They found that the robot’s goal was to get undergraduates to smile as much as possible, while smiling as little as possible.
“What makes our study unique is that previous approaches to studying infant-parent interaction essentially describe patterns,” said co-author Dan Messinger in a news release. “But we couldn’t say what the mother or infant is trying to obtain in the interaction. Here we find that infants have their own goals in the interaction, even before four months of age.”
Why is this important for new parents?
“This underscores the importance of parental interaction with their infants and holds a promise for earlier detection of impaired social interaction like autism,”says Dr. John Beckerman, a pediatrician at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill.
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