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The author's daughter pondering the inherent difficulties in studying the cognitive functions of preverbal infants... and pooping.

Abby is doing a lot of talking these days… in her own way.

Normal parents would just get excited that their child is trying to tell them things.  My mother would (and has) insisted that she is preparing to speak Finnish by producing her own syntactically-sound language.  Some people would just laugh as she earnestly says things like “agoooo” and “hooooeee.”

What did Erin and I do?

We pulled out my old Developmental Psychology textbook and started reading up on competing theories of mental and social development.

We learned that Abby likely prefers Erin’s voice over all others, and that pretty much everyone over the age of 5 will automatically adjust the way they speak to our baby in such a way that it further engages her attention (this modified speech is known as “motherese”).  Abby is likely also learning to coordinate her senses; when she hears noises, she seeks them out by sight, or she sees things in front of her and tries to touch them.

Technically, what Abby is doing right now is called “cooing,” which is a precursor to “babbling,” which can be brought on by speaking motherese during her sensorimotor stage of cognitive development.  We agreed with the textbook when it argued that Piaget underestimated the degree of learning that occurs in the first 3 months of life (he claimed most of the observed behavior was nothing more than instinctive reflex), and we marveled at the fact that Abby will, at one point in the near future, be learning an average of 6 new words each day.

I explained all of these to Abby, but she seemed much more interested in whacking at the toys hanging from her playmat.

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