To differentiate and associate the similarities among objects, events, or ideas sets man apart from the other living things in the biosphere. According to Alissa Ferry, a lead author in Northwestern University “The key to human intelligence is present very early in human development and that language skills are not necessary for learning abstract relations.” Infants are often described as a “sponge” because they tend to absorb events and details in their surroundings as part of their learning process. However, in a study in the Northwestern University, researchers found out that infants were capable of learning the abstract relations, the sameness and difference of two things. The researchers used an approach of demonstrating the infants two items that were either the same or different until their looking time declined.
During the test, infants demonstrated prolonged focus at test pairs that had similar features and vice versa on test pairs that showed no relation at all. This test suggests that the infants were able to encode the abstract relation and detected when the relation changed. “We found that infants are capable of learning these relations. Additionally infants exhibit the same patterns of learning as older children and adults – relational learning benefits from seeing multiple examples of the relation and is impeded when attention is drawn to the individual objects composing the relation.” Ferry said.
This means that infants can learn to differentiate actual things before learning to communicate. Dr. Dedre Gentner, a co-author of the study and a professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, College of Arts and Science stated that the infants were able to form an abstract same or different relation after seeing a few examples. Academic institutions can benefit from the study and future teaching materials can be modified to effectively support a student’s ability to learn.