Babies only a few months old can understand abstract principles about the physical world and analyse how objects should behave, says a new study.
According to the study, infants understand that objects can't wink in and out of existence, and that objects can't 'teleport' from one spot to another.
Scientists developed a computational model of infant cognition that accurately predicts infants' surprise at events that violate their conception of the physical world.
It emerged that the more unexpected the event, the longer they watch.
The close correlation between the model's predictions and the infants' actual responses to such events suggests that they reason in a similar way.
"Real intelligence is about finding yourself in situations that you've never been in before but that have some abstract principles in common with your experience, and using that abstract knowledge to reason productively in the new situation," says Josh Tenenbaum, associate professor of cognitive science and computation at MIT.
The study marks for the first time that infant cognition has been modeled with such quantitative precision. t suggests that infants reason by mentally simulating possible scenarios and figuring out which outcome is most likely, based on a few physical principles.
The study appears in the current issue of Science.