There’s More To Learn About Why Babies Smile

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Babies Are Smarter Than You Think: They Smile As Little As Possible While Enticing Their Moms To Smile For Longer.

US researchers have created a robotic Frankenbaby, pairing a realistic face with a metal chassis, to answer a very human question – whether babies deliberately smile in order to make their caregivers smile back. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a robotic infant to test a hypothesis that babies can (and regularly do) manipulate their mothers into smiling on command.

It was designed to move and communicate like a one-year-old child. (David Hanson/Youtube) Scientists have taken the position in a new study that one of the reasons babies smile is to get mom or any other caregiver to smile back at them. The team first observed the interaction between 13 mother-child pairs and analyzed them along four categories: how often just the kid smiled, how often just the mother smiled, how often both smiled and how often neither smiled. In the Sept. 23 issue of PLOS ONE, a team of computer scientists, roboticists and developmental psychologists confirm what most parents already suspect: When babies smile, they do so with a purpose — to make the person they interact with smile in return. Sometimes, they smile because they’re happy, but a lot of the time, they’re smiling primarily because they want you to smile, and they’re doing it using “sophisticated timing” to manipulate you into obeying them.

Diego-san was then paired up with surrogate caretakers, who were actually found to enjoy smiling at their Frankenbaby, engaging in “smile games” of their own. This initial study, which assumed that each party was attempting to influence the other, found that mothers most often tried to maximize the time both they and their kids were smiling. The first part of this study, which is published today in PLOS One, involved watching real mothers interact with real infants and quantifying their smile interactions.

Researchers detail their findings in an innovative study that combines developmental psychology, computer science and robotics — an approach that has never been tried before, to the best of the researchers’ knowledge. Jordon Pearson, a writer for Motherboard, an online magazine and video channel, has slammed the robo-baby’s somewhat unnerving appearance. “It’s bad enough that this thing moves like a stop-motion robot monster from an old horror flick, but its face is all busted, like a baby everyone thought was real until it started peeling off its fake skin, revealing its mechanical chassis, and killing everyone,” Jordan wrote. They also use what’s called anticipatory smiling: smiling at something and then turning to an adult while maintaining their smile as a means of communication.

Younger infants (four months of age and under) don’t exhibit these behaviors, but they do smile a lot, especially around adults, and the researchers wanted to figure out if these younger babies are engaging in a deliberate form of interaction. According to the team’s study, which was recently published in the journal PLOS One, “the duration of participant-only smiling was significantly longer for the controller based on the inferred infant goals than for each of the other 3 control conditions.” Which is exactly what real babies are after.

To verify their findings, researchers programmed a toddler-like robot to behave like the babies they studied and had the robot interact with undergraduate students. Thirteen infant-mother dyads (which I guess means “pairs” if you speak science), consisting of infants between 4 and 17 weeks of age, were observed interacting with each other. In fact, the study concluded that “infants exhibited sophisticated timing behaviors to achieve their goals.” In short, these kids are using all of their cunning to effectively trick their parental units into doing exactly what they want: smiling at them. They obtained the same results: The robot got the undergraduates to smile as much as possible, while smiling as little as possible. “If you’ve ever interacted with babies, you suspect that they’re up to something when they’re smiling.

For each dyad, the researchers assumed that the mother and infant were each trying to achieve one of four different goals: maximizing the time of simultaneous smiling, maximizing mother smiling, maximizing infant smiling, and nobody smiling. After running the data through their reverse-control theory algorithms, researchers were actually surprised by the findings, said Paul Ruvolo, a professor at Olin College of Engineering and an alumnus of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. “We thought either the babies had no goal or it was about mutual smiling,” he said. Mollevan’s team designed it to be tool to study the cognitive development of infants. “Basically we are trying to understand the computational problems that a baby’s brain faces when learning to move its own body and use it to interact with the physical and social worlds,” Mollevan told Gizmag in 2013.

Researchers are careful to point out that they can’t determine if the babies are conscious of what they’re doing. “We are not claiming that a particular cognitive mechanism, for instance conscious deliberation, is responsible for the observed behaviors. An infant strategy of never smiling maximizes immediate time in the mother-only smiling configuration, but at the potential expense of future time in the mother-only smiling configuration (because mother is likely to cease smiling after a number of seconds of smiling alone). Predictions derived from the goal of maximizing “mother-only” smiling appeared to maximize immediate seconds of mother-only smiling while minimizing the probability of mother terminating her smile.

Movellan and his team have been working for several years to program a realistic humanoid robot. “Our goal was to have human development inform the development of social robots,” said Ruvolo.

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