Babies: from Knowledge to Intelligence
Learning is one thing, but parents often wonder about their baby’s intelligence. Clearly, it would seem that learning and intelligence are related, but how are these concepts connected? It depends, to some extent, on how you define intelligence. And there are as many definitions of intelligence as scientists who care to ponder the issue. The majority, however, acknowledge that intelligence has something to do with how a person deals with and adapts to challenges in his world. The more flexible and effective a person is in adapting to the environment and making sense out of chaos, the more intelligent he is seen to be. The key words are adaptability and flexibility. In a child’s world, life is full of urgent and important questions: what is that funny looking thing staring down at me from my crib? Who is that strange person who comes every time I cry?
When talking about intelligence, most theorists also point to how we are able to learn different types of information. Scientists believe there are two basic types of knowledge:
This is knowledge about how to do things, such as “In order to eat baby food, I open my mouth, wait for dad to put that shiny thing in my mouth, use my tongue to keep the sweet tasting stuff in, wait until he takes the shiny thing out, close my mouth and swallow.” This type of knowledge comes from experience, but happens almost without the baby being aware of it. Your baby learns to do all the things necessary to swallow baby food without thinking about it.
This type of knowledge focuses on facts: that is a cow, that is a spoon, you are my mom. Learning facts is thought to be a much more intense phenomenon and tends to require more effort on the part of the baby.
Researchers believe that children, especially young infants, are primed to learn procedural knowledge and come to acquire declarative knowledge over time. As they do, they are able to move from a context-dependent state of learning.
A context-dependent state occurs when learning applies to only one situation. “To turn on my toy radio, I push this button.” A context-independent state occurs when a baby is able to extend something he has learned in one situation to another. “I know that if I push the button on my toy radio it plays, so I bet if I push this button on Mommy and Daddy’s CD it will play, too.” As children learn more they will learn how to transfer knowledge across a wide range of activities and across dissimilar situations. The ability to transfer knowledge from one situation to another is one of the things that enables human beings to adapt to a wide variety of situations, and the better you are at doing it, the more intelligent you will likely be judged.