The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain involved in the highest forms of learning, understanding, remembering and more.
A baby’s brain isn’t different from the rest of ours; it’s previously been thought to be too underdeveloped for a child or infant to make calculated decisions, but new research says otherwise.
In what was once thought to be a far-fetched theory, new research suggests that children, especially infants, use their prefrontal cortex to engage themselves in higher amounts of reasoning and cognitive tasks.
This came after senior author Dima Amso, associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences (CLPS) at Brown University, lead author Denise Werchan, CLPS professor Michael Frank and then postdoctoral researcher Anne Collins, now assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, devised a task, developed by Collins and Frank, to test the prefrontal cortex function in adults.
The test was a way for researchers to determine the level of brain development in adults, and later with children and infants.
Compared to the adult version, the infant test was carried out with children who grew up in a bilingual family. The children and/or infants were then forced to learn both types of speech, which meant different groups of words meaning the same thing.
Having different groups for the same meaning is an example of a “hierarchical rule set,” meaning the person who spoke or is speaking gets the higher priority, or the higher-level context to determine which language is being used.
To set out in testing this, the team of researchers gathered up 37 babies to learn a simple, yet abstracted version of the bilingual test. The babies would then be hooked up to a monitor to study both behavior and brain activity.
The babies were shown a monitor with a face and then a toy. Then a voice would come up, say a nonsensical word that sounded as if it belonged to a language. The baby would associate this voice with the face speaking about the toy shown.
Next, a different face and different toy would be shown with a different nonsensical word. As if these were words the baby was learning, the made up word would go back and forth between the two voices until it started to ingrain into the baby brain.
After that, the babies were introduced to a third person on the screen. The third person would use the same words as the first person, but then added a few new words. If the baby was learning a new language, the baby would then associate person one and three together.
Researchers placed an infrared recorder on the babies heads in the form of a headband to better track brain activity. Studying this, as well as rapid eye movement, provided results supporting the hypothesis that babies were using their prefrontal cortex in the same manner as adults.
Rather than see young brains as immature or underdeveloped, take a step back and remember that the brains of children and infants are constantly changing and learning, just as quickly as anyone else.