5 Amazing Things You Didn't Know Babies Could Do
Infants tend to be lazy, stupid turds, as anyone who has had to work with one can attest. Even if you find babies adorable, you have to admit that the only "amazing" thing about them is how they can turn milk into poop that looks and smells like it came out of a trucker who only eats at buffets.
Yet there are some other weird mutant superpowers that infants are born with, abilities that simply shouldn't be possible in a floppy little person who probably hasn't lived long enough to see a Christmas. For example ...
Babies Are Seekers of Justice
If you've ever taken a psychology class or watched Lost, you're probably familiar with the theory that people are born as blank slates. The idea is that we soak up ethics from our caregivers and environment, that we're born as morally ambiguous as a really good Breaking Bad episode. But recently, science has proven otherwise. Before we're able to talk or walk or take care of our own poops without sitting in them for a while first, we're able to distinguish between good and evil. Not only that, but we're also able to choose the right side. (Good ... the right side is good.)
Why else is "sinister" the Latin word for "left"?
Researchers at Yale stuck babies between 6 and 10 months old in front of a puppet show, a morality tale featuring anthropomorphic geometric shapes, which sounds like the shittiest puppet show ever. Basically it boiled down to a yellow triangle helping a red ball up a hill, while a blue square tried to push the red ball back down. All of these shapes had eyes, if that helps with your mental picture. The important part is that when given a choice on which shapes they preferred, 80 percent of the babies reached for the helper shape, as if to say "You are the best and I want you" (or possibly "You are the one I am going to eat because I too am evil," but probably that first one).
If you think that was just a coincidence (like maybe the helper shape was also shaped like a boob), they've done multiple versions of the study -- for instance, babies as young as 8 months agree that justice should be rewarded and evil should be punished. That study was again conducted with puppets (the universal language of babies), and in this one a bad puppet was either rewarded or punished as the babies watched. This time, the babies picked the punisher as their favorite. Not the victim or the bad guy, but the one who administered justice.
A baby who doesn't love Frank Castle isn't a baby we'd want to keep anyway.
And the older the kids get, the more intensely they feel right and wrong (one toddler actually smacked the bad puppet). But all of it happens at an age when they shouldn't even have witnessed enough good or evil to even know what it is. We practically come out of the womb wanting to administer pain to bad guys. Or bad puppets, at least.
Newborn Babies Have a Monkey-Strength Grip
We're about to tell you something about babies that you have to promise you'll never test in real life. Because you'll be tempted to, trust us. Do you promise? OK ...
An infant's grip is so strong that he can support his own weight if you dangle him.
This could be the discovery that finally knocks duct tape off its pedestal.
Again: There are absolutely no real-world scenarios where you're allowed to put this knowledge to the test, unless you're the woman in the video below, dangling her naked newborn for shits and giggles:
The reflex is called the palmar grasp, and it happens when you stroke an infant's palm or put anything in his hand (which makes the idea of the baby reaching for his mother's nipple before latching on even more painful -- he's going to squeeze the shit out of it first).
The instinct doesn't just appear out of nowhere at birth, either. It's seen even in the womb. In fact, anti-abortion activists have used images of babies grasping the hands of their surgeon during in utero operations as propaganda for their cause. What those activists probably didn't appreciate is that the reflex to wrap your hands around whatever you can get your chubby fingers on is found in baby monkeys as well. Monkeys don't have the advantage of getting carted around in BabyBjorns, after all, and the ability to cling to your monkey mom while she's swinging through the vines could be the difference between surviving infancy and getting eaten by a rhino.
Monkey veal is a delicacy in many alpaca herds as well.
Where things get interesting is when doctors test out exactly how strong infant grips can be. Way back in 1891, one researcher decided to test baby grips by dangling 60 different newborns from a walking stick (one at a time, sadly). What he found was that most were able to hang on for at least 10 seconds, and one of them lasted two minutes and 35 seconds. A separate researcher did the same test with monkeys and found that they could make it between seven and 33 minutes, and with just one hand to boot. But again, human babies aren't required to grip their mothers to stay alive, so it makes sense that we're a little behind our monkey cousins.
The bad news is that a baby's superstrength grip disappears when he's between 6 and 12 months old. So if you're ever in a situation where you're attacked by babies, you better hope they're not newborns, because you might not make it out alive.
Newborns Can Crawl to Boobs
Picture a newborn baby. Not a nice clean 2-week-old who's figured out how to be semi-human looking, but a squishy infant still wrinkled and soggy from his mom's inside juices. This thing is a full seven to 10 months away from learning to crawl, and no wonder -- newborns don't even have the muscle definition to haul around their own enormous heads. After nine months of having everything fed to them via mom's cord, babies have neither the strength nor the instinct to do anything but lie there and scream.
Yet researchers have discovered newborns doing what they describe as the "breast crawl," a phenomenon that has shockingly little to do with spring break. If you place a brand new minutes-old baby in the middle of his mother's chest, the baby will slowly but methodically migrate to one of her nipples, latch on, and start sucking (quick warning: If you click this breast crawl link, you're going to see new mom nipples, which are probably a lot less sexy than the nipples you're used to seeing on your browser).
If you've ever wondered why your parents seem to harbor resentment toward you, just remember what you did to your mom's rack.
To get there, this little blob of weak sauce has to do push-ups while using his feet to step on his mother's abdomen, propelling himself to the boob of choice. With each little push-up, he lowers one arm and reaches to the nipple for leverage before pulling himself to his milk-filled destination. At which point he instinctively figures out how to latch on and start sucking.
Now, if you're thinking, "Of course babies instinctively know how to breastfeed, DUH," think again. The process of breastfeeding can be so anxiety-ridden, unintuitive, and painful for some moms that they quit before they even leave the hospital. But those mothers are probably guiding their babies to their breasts, not letting their brand new infants do the hard work of figuring out the business of eating on their own.
Man: The only species that has to be taught how to feed AND how to bang.
So how can babies do it? Researchers think the mother's breasts emit a secret smell that only her child can sense, and it's that smell calling him to action. Which also explains a lot of what we know about the teenage years, but not how the weakest thing on the planet can pretty much do one-armed push-ups right after birth.
Babies Can Read Your Lips
One of the first milestones in every mother's life is that moment when her newborn figures out how to make direct eye contact with her. It actually takes about six weeks for babies to do it -- a loooong six weeks of nursing, diapers, and sleeplessness without so much as a knowing wink from the one they're taking care of. Until that moment when eye contact happens, the baby's eyes are unfocused and confused, staring at your forehead one moment, the ceiling fan another -- it's all the same to them. Once your child starts actually looking at you, a whole new exciting world of interaction opens up. So you can't blame parents for not noticing a subtle shift that happens about five months later.
"Excuse me, my eyes are up here. God, you do take after your father."
Starting at about 6 months old, babies stop looking into their caregivers' eyes and start looking at their lips to figure out how to make sounds correctly. So one day your baby is bonding through eye gazes and gentle coos, the next day the baby says "Fuck this, I'm going to learn how to talk." And his gaze drops and starts watching the speakers' mouths.
Researchers figured the phenomenon out by studying babies at ages 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 months old. At 4 months old, babies stared at the speakers' eyeballs. At 6 months, they split their time between the eyes and mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds focused exclusively on the mouths. By 12 months, the kids spontaneously switched backed to eye contact -- unless the scientists used Spanish speakers on babies who came from English homes. In those cases, the older babies kept their eyes trained on the mouths, because they still had some learning to do.
"Your conjugations are atrocious, tonto."
In other words, we have a natural instinct to quit bonding through eye contact and start communicating with words, and we make the transition without help from flash cards or Rosetta Stone or worried grandmothers who secretly think we're developmentally delayed. And every sound you've ever learned how to make was acquired during a six-month window before your first birthday. It kind of makes everything you've done since then look pretty lame, huh?
Babies Are Amazing Bullshit Detectors
Among the many advantages of adulthood is the loss of complete gullibility. You don't need a mirror to know that your dad didn't take your nose, you've outgrown that shit. Except you actually outgrew that shit when you were still sitting around in your pee-pants unable to articulate complete thoughts. Not only are babies adept at determining when someone is lying to them, but they totally judge them for it.
"I'll remember you tried to pass this off as Fisher Price when it comes time to stuff you two idiots into a nursing home."
The best part about this fact is how researchers figured it out -- by deliberately lying to kids in the most dickish way possible. Sixty babies between 13 and 16 months were put into two groups. The children in the first group had the privilege of watching a grownup fake excitement over opening a box, only to find out the box was totally empty. In the second group, the grownups got orgasmically excited over a box that actually had a toy in it, presumably one that was appropriate for babies.
In part two of the experiment, the same grownups with the boxes demonstrated how to turn on a light -- with their foreheads. Sixty-one percent of the babies in the group with the non-lying adult actually trusted their adult enough to copy them by trying to turn on light switches with their hilariously oversized heads. In contrast, only 34 percent of the babies placed with the liars trusted them enough to use their foreheads to do anything, much less turn on a light switch.
In conclusion, tell the truth to your kids so they will smash their faces into things.
So remember that the next time you try to trick your child into eating pea puree because it tastes like "ice cream." You might just cast yourself as an unreliable adult, unworthy of imitation. Then again, they're going to probably figure that out eventually anyway.
For more reasons to fear all things cute, check out 6 Shockingly Evil Things Babies Are Capable Of and The 5 Most Horrible Things Nobody Tells You About Babies.
Related Reading: Did you know a crazy man once designed a hypodermic needle that looked like a bunny to trick infants into getting their vaccines? Read about that, and other terrifying baby products by clicking that link. More interested in all the insane ways our body tricks us into loving babies? Read this article and learn how infants are basically just tiny bald drug dealers. And did you know babies also had mild telepathy and superhearing? That's just the tip of the tiny super powers iceberg, and you can read all about it here.