A newly published study dedicated to deducing why babies smile discovered that, even at a young age, infants time their facial expressions to keep their mothers smiling.
In a study published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed journal
, researchers looked at mother-infant interaction, and one of the prime ways of communicating early is exchanging smiles. They began by observing mothers and babies, and found that mothers "most often tried to maximize the time both they and their kids were smiling," while babies "most often smiled only as a means of getting their mothers to do the same," Engadget reported.
To pursue their quest to determine how the smile interaction really worked, the researchers created a creepy-looking robotic baby, which Engadget writer Andrew Tarantola described as "this mechanical monstrosity, named Diego-San," and he questioned whether the name "nightmare fuel" was already taken.
The robotic baby, although some described it as more toddler-like, was programmed to smile just as the real babies do, and set loose on some undergraduate students.
"The robot got the undergraduates to smile as much as possible, while smiling as little as possible," Neuroscience News reported.
“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,” study author and research scientist Javier Movellan told NN. “But proving this is difficult.”
The researchers cautioned that they couldn't, of course, attach a motivation — like conscious deliberation — to the baby's behavior based on their study.
"What makes our study unique is that previous approaches to studying infant-parent interaction essentially describe patterns,” study co-author Dan Messinger told NN. “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.”
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