Are Babies Born with Innate Perceptual Abilities? Discuss This in Relation to Theory and Research

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Are babies born with innate perceptual abilities? Discuss this in relation to theory and research

The question of whether babies are born with innate perceptual abilities is a complex one, on both a theoretical level and in terms of the methodologies which need to be devised to study it. Most techniques which have been devised for the study of human perception rely, to some extent at least, on language – for the researcher to explain the experiment, and/or the subject to respond to stimuli – and, of course, it is the impossibility of using tests like this with infants which poses the central problem for researchers in this area. However, as we will see, a range of highly inventive experiments have been devised through which neonates’ responses to stimuli can be inferred. That babies are born with some sense of touch is intuitively obvious; the extent to which they can see, hear, and even smell or taste the world around them is far less clear. The majority of recent research has shown that babies are not just born with at least some perceptual abilities: they in fact begin to exhibit signs of perception, and even memory, some time before birth. This essay will examine three of the major theoretical approaches to infant development, along with studies which have explored the state of the various senses in newborn babies.

Theoretical approaches to infant development can be seen to form a spectrum from the nativist (proposing that some perceptual abilities are innate) to the empiricist (that they are learnt by experience and experiment). The nativist approach, put forward by Spelke (eg. 1985, 1998), Baillargeon (eg. 1995) and others, has been responsible for the discovery of progressively more advanced perceptual skills in infants, and has caused the re-evaluation of much earlier research in the area, including that of Piaget (eg. 1928). The more innovative approaches to studying infant perceptions devised by researchers seeking to prove that babies are, to some...