Do Babies Learn From The Impossible?

Do Babies Learn From The Impossible?

Infant Learning & Development Laboratory (University of Chicago)

Who Can Participate

For babies ages 17-19 months who were born at full term (37+ weeks) and hear English at home

What Happens

Your child will watch several short videos of a person playing with toys and naming them. In the end, your child will see pairs of toys while a word is played. The word will match just one of the toys. We want to see which toy your baby chooses to look at!

What We're Studying

We are studying how surprise influences learning in a social context. From early on, babies can generate basic expectations about their physical and social environment, which allows them to navigate new situations. Previous studies have found that infants use expectancy violations about the physical world (e.g. an object flying) to identify new opportunities for exploration and learning. However, in a previous Lookit study, we found that expectancy violations about the social world (e.g. a person acting irrationally) have the opposite function: identifying unreliable informants. In this follow-up, we are studying why surprise sometimes enhances and sometimes hinders learning. Specifically, we are studying if seeing impossible actions (e.g. an arm that magically passes through a solid wall) has different effects on learning than seeing irrational actions as in the previous study. This research will shed light on the mechanisms behind infants’ selective attention and selective learning.


10-15 minutes


Within one week of your participation, we’ll email you a $5 Amazon gift card as a thank-you. To be eligible for the gift card your child must be in the age range for this study, you need to submit a valid consent statement, we need to see that there is a child with you, and you child cannot have participated before in the study. We will send a gift card even if you do not finish the whole study or we are not able to use your child's data.

This study is conducted by Professor Amanda Woodward (contact:

Would you like to participate in this study?