Babies manipulate their moms for maximum smiles.

By Seriously Science | October 7, 2015 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/Diamond Farah

Photo: flickr/Diamond Farah

If you’re like most people, when a baby smiles at you, you smile back. If you’re these scientists, though, you carefully record the baby’s smiles in order to build a creepy baby-simulating robot (complete with a face that only a scientist could love — see figure below). In the process of building the robot, the authors of this study found that by 4 months, babies and their mothers fall into a predictable smiling routine: “mothers consistently attempted to maximize the time spent in mutual smiling, while infants tried to maximize mother-only smile time.” When the “sophisticated child-like robot” copied the smile timings of real babies, it also maximized the smiling of the adults it interacted with. A disembodied robot baby head that manipulates you — in stores just in time for Christmas! (We dearly hope!)

Infants Time Their Smiles to Make Their Moms Smile

“One of the earliest forms of interaction between mothers and infants is smiling games. While the temporal dynamics of these games have been extensively studied, they are still not well understood. Why do mothers and infants time their smiles the way they do? To answer this question we applied methods from control theory, an approach frequently used in robotics, to analyze and synthesize goal-oriented behavior. The results of our analysis show that by the time infants reach 4 months of age both mothers and infants time their smiles in a purposeful, goal-oriented manner. In our study, mothers consistently attempted to maximize the time spent in mutual smiling, while infants tried to maximize mother-only smile time. To validate this finding, we ported the smile timing strategy used by infants to a sophisticated child-like robot that automatically perceived and produced smiles while interacting with adults. As predicted, this strategy proved successful at maximizing adult-only smile time. The results indicate that by 4 months of age infants interact with their mothers in a goal-oriented manner, utilizing a sophisticated understanding of timing in social interactions. Our work suggests that control theory is a promising technique for both analyzing complex interactive behavior and providing new insights into the development of social communication.”

Diego-San, the robot used to interact with adults smiling (left) and not smiling (right).

Diego-San, the robot used to interact with adults smiling (left) and not smiling (right).

Related content:
Science proves babies love dancing to Backstreet Boys.
Babies lifting weights…for science!
Dogs can tell if human faces are happy or angry.

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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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