How Do Babies Learn? Exploring the Work of Dr. Alison Gopnik

It’s almost universally recognizable, the wide-eyed, curious gaze of a baby experiencing things for the first time.

For babies, everything is new and holding almost infinite possibility, which is one of the things that makes their process of learning how to interact with the world so fascinating.

With a background in Psychology and Philosophy, Dr. Alison Gopnik has spent much of her career trying to understand exactly what is going on inside a baby’s brain as they go through this process. By studying babies, she believes that we can expand not only our knowledge of how the brain works, but also how we understand identity and the nature of the self.

In a recent profile and Q&A session on the University of California website, Dr. Gopnik explains that for babies, taking in the world around them is like “being in love with Paris for the first time after you’ve had three double espressos.” Everything is running at full speed to absorb and understand as much as possible, making, strengthening, and prioritizing connections that will help them navigate their world better as they grow. Even from the very start, Dr. Gopnik says, babies’ brains are organizing and analyzing their experiences.   Her work, including the best-selling The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life,  provides strong evidence for the idea that babies are deeply rational thinkers in a constant process of careful experimentation.

So what do babies need to make the most of the world as their laboratory? According to Dr. Gopnik, the most important characteristic of a good learning environment for babies is that it be a safe space they can explore.

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