When something surprising happens, it provides a special learning experience for babies, a study suggests. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University set up a series of experiments in which babies were exposed to objects whose behavior did and did not "violate expectations," per the study, published in Science. In one case, for instance, 11-month-olds witnessed a ball rolling along a ramp until it hit a pair of parallel walls blocked by a screen. In some cases, when researchers lifted the screen, the ball had been placed between the two walls—creating the illusion that it had moved through the first, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Infants who saw the surprising event—the ball that passed through the wall—learned this new information very efficiently," researcher Aimee Stahl tells the Times.
Indeed, when an object behaved in a seemingly odd way, babies showed special interest in it. In another experiment, babies saw a ball that looked as if it were hovering in midair. Babies who later played with that ball tended to drop it more often than they hit it, whereas babies who played with the ball that had seemed to go through a wall were more interested in hitting it than dropping it, the Times notes. "This raises some exciting, intriguing questions about whether surprise could be used by parents and teachers to shape how babies learn," Stahl tells the Baltimore Sun. She suggests one activity: Hide a ball and see if your infant tries to find it. (Another handy tool for babies' development: naps.)