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How Babies Think About Danger: Shari Liu (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Shari Liu’s talk titled “How Babies Think About Danger” at TED conference.

Cognitive scientist Shari Liu’s talk, “How Babies Think About Danger,” delves into the intriguing world of infant cognition, specifically how babies perceive and understand dangerous situations. Liu starts by challenging the common assumption that babies have no awareness of danger by presenting initial observations of one-year-olds engaging in seemingly reckless behavior.

Through her research, she reveals five surprising findings, including that babies are actually capable of discerning risky situations when observing others make choices. By employing innovative methodologies, including remote studies necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Liu demonstrates that infants show consistent responses to danger, both in lab settings and at home.

She also highlights the significant individual variability in babies’ reactions, suggesting deeper layers of cognitive processing. This variability prompts a discussion on the potential factors influencing these differences and the importance of incorporating such insights into future research. Liu’s work not only expands our understanding of infant cognition but also opens new avenues for exploring the developmental origins of risk assessment and decision-making.

Listen to the audio version here:

TRANSCRIPT:

So today, I’m here to talk to you about babies and their understanding of the world. Specifically, their understanding of dangerous situations. But first, in case you haven’t interacted with a baby recently, here are some clips of what we call typical one-year-old behavior.

Well, from this, you might think that babies don’t understand anything about dangerous situations. Or maybe they don’t understand anything about anything. But today, I’m going to tell you five surprising things that I learned while I did this work.

Babies’ Willingness to Encounter Danger

The first surprise is that babies are really willing to do dangerous things. So these are videos captured in the lab. And the finding from this work is that one-year-old babies are perfectly willing to walk off the edge of these steep drop-offs without even thinking twice. And in fact, they need months of experience learning to walk before they start to show any signs of fear in these situations. So that was what I completed before I started my PhD.

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