The chapter under review seeks to discuss the babies’ learning capacities. The latter is viewed as an ability to change one’s behavior as a result of new experiences. In this regard, the researchers distinguish four fundamental learning capacities that children possess. They include classical and operant conditioning, habituation, and imitation. The current paper, therefore, intends to summarize the main ideas presented in the chapter shortly.
Classical conditioning refers to the type of learning that is based on the newborn reflexes. It appears when a neutral stimulus is combined with the stimulus (unconditioned stimulus) that causes a certain reflexive response (unconditioned response). As a result, when the baby’s nervous system adapts to new ‘conditions’, a neutral stimulus can also provoke a reflexive response that formerly appeared only due to an unconditioned stimulus. For instance, if the baby is often stroked in the forehead before breastfeeding, he/she eventually would start making sucking movements as a response to this action. Thus, after a child successfully learns something, the neutral stimulus is called a conditioned stimulus, whereas the unconditioned response becomes a conditioned response.
Operant conditioning, on the other hand, is related to learning that results from a baby’s actions. It means that if under classical conditioning, kids have to form expectations as a response to neutral stimuli, whereas during operant conditioning, kids learn to anticipate the outcomes of their own operations. The latter, in turn, can be divided into reinforcing and punishing consequences. For example, the newborns would start sucking on a nipple faster when it is associated with the appearance of some interesting or pleasant sounds and sights. Additionally, operant conditioning plays a crucial role in forming attachment between child and caregiver as positive emotional reactions that accompany their interaction reinforce the feelings of trust and closeness.
The third type of baby’s learning capacity is called habituation which implies that the strength of a child’s response to certain stimuli will reduce the more he/she is exposed to it. Indeed, it was noticed that the human brain is attracted to novel information and situations that ensure an infant’s constant knowledge acquisition. However, when the surrounding object’s qualities become mostly familiar, the kids lose their interest in it. Despite that, the appearance of new stimuli in the well-known environment leads to the return of high levels of interest, otherwise known as recovery.
Finally, imitation is the type of learning capacity that allows children to acquire knowledge through copying other individuals. However, there is still no unity in opinion among scholars concerning this ability. Some consider that the propensity to imitate is strong in babies younger than two-three months old, then they gradually lose this capacity. Conversely, other researchers argue that children’s ability to imitate does not decline with age but rather the time between observed action and its copy increases as they become older. In this regard, the recent discovery of mirror neurons seems to prove the latter group’s position. Indeed, neuroscientists found that watching others’ behavior and doing something personally activate similar neurons, suggesting that individuals can learn from observation as well as from actual experience.
Overall, the chapter under review revealed the importance of all the four learning capacities for the child’s development and socialization. Although the scholar’s knowledge concerning this topic is by no means exhaustive, it is fair to claim that there is a substantial understanding of mental processes associated with children’s learning. For this reason, familiarity with classical and operant conditioning, habituation, and imitation can significantly facilitate both healthcare practice and medical research.