The team of researchers from the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Goethe University Frankfurt and the Goethe-Institute Frankfurt took 24 six-month-old and six eight-month-old infants and showed them a computer screen with a red dot.
Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers set off a brief “bing” noise every time the babies looked at the dot. A picture of an animal also appeared next to the dot.
The scientists discovered that before long, the babies were frequently looking at the dot on purpose in order to get the reward of the noise and animal picture, according to their study published in the Public Library of Science One academic journal.
The research is ground-breaking because scientists previously have only been able to study babies' cognitive abilities by having them do activities such as pointing or pressing buttons. Those are problematic because infants generally only begin to develop fine motor skills as they approach their first birthday.
The researchers said they hope their work will lead to new ways of stimulating infant learning or improved medical treatments.