Don't Worry, This Baby Is Just Learning

Babies do a lot of sleeping—sometimes up to 18 hours a day. And with the remaining six hours dedicated to pooping and crying, you have to wonder when these tater tots are actually learning. The answer: sleep multitasking.

In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists observed that babies are masters of a skill that I've been working on since high school: learning while sleeping. LiveScience explains the experiment (and assures us that the baby above is not being attacked by some sort of terrifying robo-octopus):

In experiments with 26 sleeping infants, each just one to two days old, scientists played a musical tone followed by a puff of air to their eyes 200 times over the course of a half-hour. A network of 124 electrodes stuck on the scalp and face of each baby also recorded brain activity during the experiments.

The babies rapidly learned that they could expect a puff of air upon hearing the tone, showing a four-fold increase on average in the chances of tightening their eyelids in response to the sound by the end of each session.

In addition to these new insights into how babies' brains work, researchers hope that their success in scanning the infants' tiny cerebella might lead to new techniques for identifying autism and dyslexia at a young age.

As William Fifer, a developmental neuroscientist at Columbia University, explained, "babies spend so much time asleep...[it] could be an ideal time and state to ask questions of their brain." Then he referred to the baby as a "data sponge," I went back to thinking of them as cute little blobs and not scientific subjects, and all was right with the universe. [LiveScience via Geekologie]

Image credit Eve Vagg