Throw a baby a bone

A few weeks ago an article appeared on my internet home page with the screaming headline “Dogs as Smart as 2-year-old Kids.” You can read the article here.
Really?!  I love dogs, and know quite a few very bright ones.  And certainly, dogs have some surprising mental capacities, but they are in no way equivalent to two-year-olds
For example, the study says that your average dog “can learn 165 words (similar to a 2-year-old child).”   165 words?   Researchers Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff in their wonderful book “How Babies Talk” point out that, between the ages of 18-months and two-years, toddlers typically learn nine new words a day… and that by four years-old, they have some 5,000 words at their command!  Arf!
And while this study suggests that dogs are the equivalent of toddlers in their numerical understanding, Elizabeth Spelke has shown that six-month-old babies can detect the difference between large and small number of things, like telling the difference between a set of 16 and a set of 8 dots.
It wasn’t so long ago that babies were thought to come into the world as blobs – sponges absorbing the world around them.  And, as the dog study seems to suggest, that real learning doesn’t happen until they start talking.  But what the newest research shows is that, in fact, there is so much going on in a baby’s brain.  That from the very beginning, babies are unlocking the social, cognitive, and emotional world around them… even if we (the very smart adults around them) can’t see it. 
You can read about even more of the truly amazing capacities of babies, read this Op-Ed in the New York Times by another researcher featured in Mind in the Making, Alison Gopnik.   
What kind of evidence do you see in your baby that shows he or she is learning?

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3 Responses to Throw a baby a bone

  1. Amy, thanks for your perspective. I have an almost 8 month old, and a dog. There is no contest between the two (sorry, Rascal). The baby learns every day, constantly absorbing, while the dog….well, he has his tricks.

    The only surprising difference to me is that the dog can express empathy and shame….and the baby can’t just yet.

  2. Of course babies are smarter than dogs in some ways. But I wouldn’t dismiss dog intelligence quite so glibly. Our dog, who happens to be named Baby, knows about 30 human words. But here’s something to ponder? How many “dog words” (sounds) do babies, or for that matter, even adults know? I would wager that the answer is pretty close to zero.

  3. Interesting research indeed, obviously from a dog lovers perspective though. I would have to say our 10 month old has an understanding of ‘most’ things we say to her, its just that she can’t get her tongue around the correct sounds just yet. I can’t compare to a dog but I know that the one next door doesn’t even understand ‘go home’ so it’s just not that bright in my opinion.

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