What This Robotic Baby Can Teach Us About How Infants Communicate

When cognitive scientist Dr. Javier Movellan watched his three-month-old baby Marina smile, he wondered if she was trying to communicate with him.

“I felt very strongly that this was happening but in the back of my mind I wondered whether I was just fooling myself,” Movellan told The Huffington Post in an email.

Movellan and a team of researchers used data from a previous study to analyze the face-to-face interactions of 13 four-month-old infants and their mothers, and they recorded how often both the babies and their mothers smiled.

Their findings, which were published online in the journal PLOS One on Sept. 23, found that the babies didn’t smile simply in reaction to their mothers. They smiled to get mom to smile back — and they did so with the timing of a comedian. Specificially, the babies made their mothers smile as much as possible while smiling as little as possible themselves.

Being a scientist, who is also an expert in robotics, Movellan decided to further test his hypothesis — and he did it with the help of a rather creepy robot programmed to behave like a baby. Check it out in this video:

So what does this robobaby tell us about how infants communicate? Quite a bit, actually. Using the bot, the researchers were able to confirm their earlier finding that babies don’t smile at random. They smile purposefully to elicit positive responses from their moms.

“In early smile games, infants are far more active and intentional than previously thought,” Movellan said. “They are active game players with their own agenda, rather than passive responders to what mom does … We found that by four months of age, infants are amazing at timing their smiles to get you to —> Read More