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New study: babies orient themselves through the eyes of their counterpart


Flood of impressions: eyes of the other person particularly important for babies
Babies are constantly exposed to a flood of impressions. To find out what is important, they orientate themselves towards other people. Researchers have now found that it is above all the eyes of their counterpart through which the little ones can be guided.

Look into newborn's eyes
If couples have children, they are advised to talk to the babies a lot right after birth, because this helps to improve their offspring. It is obviously also important to look them in the eye. Not so much because of the facial expressions, but because babies are guided through the eyes of their counterpart. German researchers have now found that out.

Constant flood of impressions
Babies are constantly exposed to a flood of impressions. In order to find their way around, they orientate themselves very early on to other people who show them what is particularly important in their immediate surroundings.

So far, however, it was not clear which signals the little ones use primarily.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and the University of Heidelberg have now found out that it is above all the eyes of their counterparts that guide them.

The characteristic light-dark contrast of dark iris on a white background seems to be particularly important, according to a message.

Attention test with four-month-old subjects
To get their results, four-month-old subjects were placed for an attention test in front of a screen, from which they stared at two eyes - shown as two white ellipses, each with a black dot in the middle.

In the message, the process is illustrated using the example of a boy: Suddenly the eyes of the pair of eyes move to one side of a stack of building blocks. The boy follows him carefully. The colored rattle on the other hand does not look at the artificial eyes.

The baby doesn't seem to pay any attention to her either. However, when both objects flare up on the screen again, the little ones seem to be captivated by the rattle. It is obviously new to him.

Draw baby's attention
“According to the so-called novelty preference, babies look at things that are new to them longer. Here it is obviously the rattle that was initially ignored by the pair of eyes and therefore also by the babies, ”says study director Christine Michel.

The movement of the black dots seems to be able to direct the babies' attention to objects in the area as precisely as another person's line of sight can.

But does this only work with points that look like real eyes? To find out, the researchers again showed the small study participants two moving points that "looked" to the side - this time, however, white circles on a black background.

It turned out that the boy seems to be following these circles less purposefully. When both toys appear again after a short break, he pays neither of the two more attention.

So he seems to be equally familiar with both objects. His attention was obviously floating between the two things, regardless of the direction of movement of the white circles.

Is the ability innate or learned?
"The children seem to follow the direction of the black dots much more attentively than those of the white dots," explains the neuroscientist.

“So you learn particularly well from black dots on a white background that move. You are obviously sensitive to the contrast of real eyes. "

So far it is unclear whether the ability to recognize eyes as a signal generator is innate or the children learn them in the first few months.

“Some scientists assume that from birth there is a kind of module in the brain that jumps exactly to the direction of other people's eyes. It would then recognize where a person is looking and thereby influence our interaction with them, ”explains Christine Michel.

Apes have already been shown to have these specially aligned nerve cells.

How important eye contact is in the first few months
“Others believe that the ability to follow looks is not there from the start. The little ones have learned over time that it is worth following your eyes, ”adds Michel.

They would have become more sensitive to the characteristic light-dark contrast in the course of their development. According to the neuroscientist, further studies must now show which of the two explanations is correct. After all, the babies in this study are four months old.

However, one thing is already certain: “The results show how important direct eye contact is when dealing with babies, especially in the first few months. If you look at them carefully before you show them something, you can focus your attention on them, ”explains Stefanie Hoehl, senior author of the accompanying publication, which has now appeared in the renowned scientific reports magazine.

"Children, on the other hand, understand other ways by which we can point out things to them much later." For example, they can only follow the hint towards the end of their first year when someone else points to an object - instead of looking at it. (ad)

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