Among living creatures, only humans can think about thinking. Researchers recently performed a new set of cognitive tests on one-year-olds to discover how soon humans develop the ability to reason. Their findings surprised them.

The investigators showed the babies short videos of virtual objects bouncing around randomly inside a round “container” that had an opening at the bottom. The contents were then blocked from view, after which one of the objects was seen exiting the container. The researchers measured any surprise in the babies’ reactions to the object that escaped through the opening—a choice of one that had been heading toward the opening just before the picture was covered, one that was not near the opening, or one that was actually moving in the wrong direction.

The babies seemed perplexed when the wrong object appeared to escape the container, indicating that even at 12 months they could predict the trajectories the objects should have taken. They were able to combine abstract knowledge with perceptual data in an exercise of “pure reasoning” in the form of Bayesian analyses.1 Bayesian logic is used in predictive modeling, which attempts to calculate the likelihood of a given future event based on prior events. The authors matched the babies’ behavior to this formula, which expresses Bayesian predictive logic:…

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