Baby’s brains have many, MANY more neural connections than our adult brains. As in we have about 100 billion neurons - roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way. So why aren’t babies smarter than us? Well, obviously it’s much more about how we USE these cells than just the raw number of them.
Babies have less capacity to focus their attention, which means they are vaguely aware of pretty much everything that’s going on all the time. This is a sensible strategy considering that babies haven’t yet learned what's important.
Think of their attention like a lantern, dimly scattering light across the room. Our adult perception is more like a spotlight, we’re able to consciously focus our attention on specific things, ignoring the background details.
As babies and children mature, their brains go through a "pruning" process, where their brain cell networks are strategically shaped and fine-tuned by their experience. This helps them make order out of their worlds. It’s what allows them to focus their attention more specifically.
The amazing thing about babies’ brains is that they are born READY to engage. The brain areas for language, bonding and socialisation while not fully mature at birth, are primed and ready to learn these skills at a dizzyingly fast rate.
Given how quickly babies pick up these highly complex and complicated skills (as well as data from brain imaging studies) we know that while still in the womb, babies brains are growing in ways that will set them up for success as soon as they enter the world.
Once here, babies’ brains continue to develop through use — by interacting, observing and doing things. We can help to support this development by creating a stimulating environment and opportunities for novel and interesting experiences. This includes different activities and types of play.
What are some fun ways you know that your baby is learning and growing? Share below!
References: Lagercrantz et al 2010; Gopnik et al 1999