When we take a look at a newborn baby, we often think of them as tiny, underdeveloped people who haven’t had the chance to think, feel pain, or remember anything of note yet. We think their only real abilities are to eat, sleep, cry, and fill up a diaper. This is actually a common misconception. Babies do in fact have the ability to do a lot more cognitively than often believed.
It was long thought that babies couldn’t feel pain. In fact, using anesthesia was much avoided when giving babies surgery because, why would they need it? Many thought that their cries were just automated, and didn’t indicate any kind of bad feeling. If you’re a parent, you know what triggers your child to cry. Perhaps they’re hungry. Or wet. Or tired. None of these are positive feelings — they sometimes make grown adults cry. Another scenario that proves this belief wrong is when a baby gets a shot — it’s not uncommon at all for them to react and cry because of the pain. A baby’s pain is very real.
Babies can think - There are a lot of studies out there that take a look at the cognitive processes of infants. It has been commonly thought that until the brain is fully formed, babies are not able to think. This has been proven wrong by many studies, but you don’t really need studies to see the baby’s mind at work. When a baby hears its mother’s voice, you can see their heads move and try to locate the sound. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of a baby dreaming, you’ll see them frown, smile, even giggle while dreaming. One cannot dream without thinking. The myth of babies being unable to think is debunked!
Babies CAN form memories – This is where birth comes in. It’s important to know that babies can indeed, without a doubt create implicit memories. They associate with feelings of warmth, their mother’s voice, and how to feed. These aren’t things that they are able to forget. However, with other memories, such as that of birth, if they indeed can remember it, it would take some kind of trigger. For example, have you ever smelled a familiar scent and it takes you back to the specific day and time you smelled it? Without that reminder, you might have never had the flashback. Researchers are looking into what exactly one of these cues or triggers would look like for an infant. Of course, scientists have a bit of a disadvantage since babies cannot communicate with words at birth.
Until we are more clear on exactly what babies can remember, we should, at the very least not underestimate the power of the human mind, no matter how small in seemingly unformed. Babies are a lot more intelligent than you may think.