The idea that some knowledge is innate is a theory that goes back at least as far as Plato. Now new research out of the University of Missouri has confirmed the great philosopher's hunch, demonstrating that all babies are born with an intuitive knowledge of physics, according to University of Missouri News Bureau.
Does this mean your baby is the next Einstein? Well, not quite. Babies aren't born with innate knowledge of the theory of relativity, or a blueprint for Newton's laws of motion. But their knowledge does appear much more sophisticated than researchers have previously realized.
"We believe that infants are born with expectations about the objects around them, even though that knowledge is a skill that’s never been taught. As the child develops, this knowledge is refined and eventually leads to the abilities we use as adults," said Kristy vanMarle, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri.
In a review of related scientific literature from the past 30 years, vanMarle found that infants as young as 2 months old appear to have an intuitive understanding of gravity, capable of anticipating that unsupported objects will fall. Furthermore, at just 5 months infants display an expectation that non-cohesive substances like sand or water are not solid.
"Intuitive physics include skills that adults use all the time. For example, when a glass of milk falls off the table, a person might try to catch the cup, but they are not likely to try to catch the milk that spills out," said vanMarle. "The majority of an adult’s everyday interactions with the world are automatic, and we believe infants have the same ability to form expectations, predicting the behavior of objects and substances with which they interact."
Being born with such intuitive genius is no excuse to slack off in physics class, though. According to vanMarle, despite the fact that some physics knowledge is believed to be innate, it's also a skillset that can be improved through learning. She believes that parents can assist skill development by encouraging play and interaction with objects.
"Natural interaction with the child, such as talking to him/her, playing peek-a-boo, and allowing him/her to handle safe objects, is the best method for child development," she said.
In other words, even if your child is a burgeoning genius, it might be a little early to expect her to understand Plato. Best to start them with Play-Doh.