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Gifted Babies

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Updated June 06, 2014

Teenage girl holding baby boy, close up.
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A typical comment made about babies who are later recognized as gifted children is that they are alert. Looking in their eyes, one can almost see them thinking!

Need for Mental Stimulation
Another sign of giftedness in infants is a need for mental stimulation. It is not unusual for gifted babies to get quite fussy when they do not get that stimulation. The fussiness can end up with crying. Parents of these infants can get extremely frustrated because nothing seems to work to get the baby to stop fussing and crying. The baby has been fed and diapers don't need changing. The parents are sometimes certain that the baby is a "colicky" baby. However, the baby can be calmed and made happy simply by providing a change of scenery. Infants can't move on their own, so all they can see is what is in front of them. If they get tired of looking at what is in their viewable range, they can get upset.

How do we know these babies are getting upset from lack of stimulation? There are two ways we can tell. First, these infants will quite often stop fussing and crying when they are turned around to face a different direction or are provided something different to look at. Parents of gifted children often note that when their children were babies, they would have to move them as often as every twenty minutes in order to stop their crying.

Infant Studies
Another way to know that these infants require mental stimulation is from studies that have been done with babies. Dr. Hillary Hettinger Steiner and Dr. Martha Carr report on a number of infant studies that looked at two things: "habituation" and "preference for novelty." In "habituation" studies, researchers measure how quickly infants will look away from some stimulus, like a picture or a toy. In "preference for novelty" studies, basically, researchers will show babies two stimuli, a familiar and an unfamiliar (or novel) one, and then see how often the babies look at each one.

These studies found that some babies became "habituated" to a stimulus more quickly than other babies did, which means they looked away from it sooner. In the same way, some babies showed a preference for an unfamiliar (novel) stimulus over a familiar one, one they were already used to looking at. When these babies became eight-year-old children, they were given IQ tests. Children who tested as gifted on the IQ tests were the babies who looked away from objects more quickly than the other babies and were also the babies who preferred unfamiliar over familiar objects.

What these studies seem to indicate is that giftedness is not simply the result of providing an enriching environment at home, but that gifted children are born with a need for mental stimulation.

Reference:
Steiner, H. H. & Carr, M. (2003). Cognitive development in gifted children: Toward a more precise understanding of emerging differences in intelligence. Educational Psychology Review. 15, 215-246.
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