Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Next time, we're putting her in a giant maze with cheese.

With Amynah being a scientist, and me having a professionally symbiotic relationship with science, we decided early on that we would enroll Sana in pretty much any baby-development study on offer at UCLA. We didn’t have long to wait – we received a card seeking the use of our baby in the mail from “The Baby Lab” when Sana was five weeks old. A week after we sent it in, we got a call asking us to bring her in.

So yesterday, I tramped up to the UCLA campus, pushing Sana in The Mangler through the drifting crowds of cooing undergraduates. We got into the lab, where the professor in charge was in the midst of a meeting with his undergraduates. I was handed a great sheaf of papers to read and sign (“I understand that there are no risks associated with these experiments beyond those associated with everyday life” - I was going to mention that I had, in the course of my everyday life earlier that morning, been training Sana as my apprentice in my new career as a bullfighting skydiver, but thought it prudent to just sign the form). Despite the new environment and her approaching lunchtime, Sana was pretty quiet. I quickly changed her diaper, and we went in for the experiment.

The idea, I was told, was to test infant’s understanding of the continuity of form – whether they understood that if a box passes over a rod, that the rod will still be intact afterward. To do this, they track baby’s pupils – the longer the baby stares at an object, the more likely they are surprised by what they see.

We were say in front of a tv screen outfitted with a special camera designed to track Sana’s eye movements. To get set it up, they played a video of singing muppets, then a series of beeping shapes and video snippets. After that, the test would begin.

This was the muppet video:

Here’s how it went.

“Ba na ma na”

Happy baby

“Shapes and beeps” – crying. Perhaps she was startled by the sudden change? The technicians were understanding, and started over.

“Ba na ma na”

Happy baby

“Shapes and beeps” – crying.

I informed Sana that she was being unreasonable, and setting back the forward march of human knowledge. She seemed chastened. We resumed our place by the screen, determined to do better.

“Ba na ma na” started again, and Sana watched, calmly, perhaps even bobbing her head along a little.

The shapes and beeps started. Sana watched as they moved, corner to corner, beeping and bopping. Her brow wrinkled. What was this – some sort of avant garde cinema? Where was the music, the characters, the great themes? This was just abstract posturing. She started to squirm, then her face reddened. She started to holler.

“That’s uh, two thumbs down,” I said, as I bundled her out of the lab.

She won’t make it as a scientist perhaps, but she might have a future as a movie critic.

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