Babies Can Think Using Logic and Reason Before They Talk, According to New Study

Babies think logically before they are able to speak, according to a new study which calls into question whether we need language in order to reason.

Infants are able to reason using "disjunctive syllogism", better known as the process of elimination according to research published in the journal Science.

The results reveal the earliest known foundations of our human ability to reason logically, according to the paper's summary, and stand in contrast to the theories of pioneering psychologist Jean Piaget. He argued that children cannot reason until they are 7-years-old.

The authors of the paper made their findings by studying 48 infants aged between 12- and 19-months-old. This is the stage when babies have started to develop language and speech skills, but can't yet articulate themselves in a complex way.

Study participants were tasked with repeatedly studying animations featuring two different objects, such as a flower and a dinosaur. The items were then hidden behind a black wall.

In one set of experiments, a cup was shown to remove the dinosaur in an animation, and the barrier would lift to only show the flower, as expected. In another set, the children were presented with an illogical combination. For example, where the cup hid a dinosaur but another dinosaur would appear when the barrier was removed.

Eye-tracking, which is commonly used to measure a preverbal child's mental abilities, showed that the babies stared longer when they saw an illogical combination, suggesting they were confused.

Further research is now needed to understand whether these findings could be used to diagnose cognitive disabilities in young children.

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According to the summary of the study published in Science, the researchers set out to investigate whether our human ability to reason logically is an "inherent attribute of the mind that even a young child might possess", or a "hard-won accomplishment mastered later in life."

"The race to document the range of early logical abilities shared by infants, adults, and nonhuman animals, and to determine how these foundational abilities empower our broader capacities to reason, has begun."

Lead study author Nicoló Cesana-Arlotti, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said "Our results indicate that the acquisition of logical vocabulary might not be the source of the most fundamental logical building blocks in the mind," told Scientific American.

Michael Jones, speech and language therapist and author of Talking and Learning with Young Children told Newsweek: "This is an important study because it confirms what many parents and early educators already know; that pre-verbal children show by their behaviour that they can think logically. It is part of the growing foundation for mathematical thinking."

Justin Halberda, Johns Hopkins psychologist and reason researcher, who was not involved in the study but wrote an analysis of it in Science, said: "I think many people would say that most of their reasoning happens when they are silently talking to themselves in their heads. What this new study reveals is that preverbal infants are also working through this same type of serial reasoning, and doing so before robust language abilities have been mastered."