Scientific from Birth

The other day, I was sitting with one of my twin boys on the floor.  He was sitting in a U-shaped pillow, and I was next to him in socks and sweatpants, just playing on the floor.  All of a sudden, he abandoned the toys that we were playing with, and started stroking my foot.  Then my pants.  Then his pillow.  Then socks, pants, pillow; socks, pants, pillow.  This went on for about five minutes.  I realized watching him that he was exploring the different fabric textures, trying to figure out what about them was different.  Very methodically, very carefully, and in the same order.  Socks, pants, pillow.  Socks, pants, pillow.  He’d thought through an experiment, and was carrying it out, trying to better understand the world.  He was following the scientific method to a T.  When he finally understood whatever it was that he was trying to understand, he looked up at me, laughed, and then got back to playing with his toys.

As it turns out, much of babies’ play time actually involves this methodical kind of experimentation.  The scientific method is something that we seem to have ingrained in us from birth.

A chart showing how babies follow the scientific method
Poster courtesy of: Tiffany Ard

And this phenomenon does not seem to be merely the delusion of a hopeful father projecting his shattered dreams of scientific brilliance upon his children.  It turns out, this is borne out by science.

According to an article on the National Science Foundation, multiple studies have shown that “Babies Are Born Scientists.”

“[Allison] Gopnik and her colleagues found that young children, in their play and interactions with their surroundings, learn from statistics, experiments and from the actions of others in much the same way that scientists do.”

So I wonder what that means for children who grow up and later either don’t like science, or don’t understand science (or at least think that about themselves)?  At some point in their development, something turned them away from their natural way of interacting with the world, took away the natural experimentation and style of learning that connects so well to skills in professional science.

3 thoughts on “Scientific from Birth”

  1. Great post! What a cool parenting experience this must have been for you! Seeing your little scientist’s wheels spinning.

    Cynically, I have a theory about where the disillusionment hails from. At a certain point, science becomes a class involving homework, quizzes, and lab reports. You know how explaining a joke kills its funniness? Maybe grading science destroys the sense of wonder.

  2. You’ve definitely got me thinking about why I never really gravitated towards science as I got older. I wonder if a factor could be parents who prevent their children from exploring. What I mean by that is perhaps parents see a child doing something that they know will have a bad outcome and tell the child, “No”. And in this way, they are preventing the natural progression of that inherent scientific method. After enough times of this, the child could develop this subconscious notion that “exploring” isn’t a good thing. Just a thought…

    Very interesting post. I’ll definitely be sharing it with some of my friends.

  3. This makes me want to have kids and experiment on them! Great idea!

    Ok, maybe not, but it does bring to light a very interesting idea about how we’re all wired and if we can alter that wiring at some point to either increase or decrease certain tendencies. If that’s the case, I’d like to rewire myself and take up something in the STEM fields. Maybe geology or astronomy. It must be pretty cool to watch mini humans develop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *