One of the things that I struggled with when I was just blogging about sciencey stuff (and occasionally and then mostly books/food) is that I spent too much time faffing about and over-thinking things, which meant that I ended up writing much less often than I would have liked. Part of the fun of writing about being on paternity leave is that the very nature of the task means that I just have to squeeze in posts as and when and if I can. I can no longer let perfect be the enemy of good, and that is a very liberating feeling. Short and as often as possible is going to be the aim.
The Lykketroll's just gone down for his second nap, and the most of the small tasks in today's Wunderlist are already out of the way, so it's time to squeeze a short post in.
The inspiration for writing about mirrors came when I was brushing the 'Troll's (two) teeth this morning. I find it fascinating that right now, the 'Troll has no real sense of 'self'. His brain hasn't yet developed to the point where he can connect an image (in this case a reflection) with an object, and that he himself is an object, separate from me and his surroundings.
In the early 70s, an ingenious little experiment called the Rouge Test (Amsterdam, 1972) was developed to investigate when children begin to connect their reflection with themselves, and possibly begin to develop a sense of self.
Right now, the 'Troll is the first stage, where mirrors are exciting because (1) babies are just generally obsessed with faces, and (2) when he sees his reflection in the mirror, he thinks it's someone else looking back at him. When he giggles and waves it's because he is trying to socialise with what he thinks is another baby.
A quick little test I did with him this morning was to let him reach out for his toothbrush and then raise it over his head and out of his direct eye-line. When it was in front of him, he followed it up with his eyes and tried to reach for it. When I took the toothbrush behind his back and held it over his head so that he could only see it in his reflection, he didn't react at all. To him, there was another baby in the bathroom with a toothbrush dangling over its head.
It'll be fun to see when he hits stage two, between 13 and 24 months, where his reflection isn't as interesting in the same way any more. This is also where the science starts to get really interesting as there are differing explanations for why this is. The lack of interest could be because they are acting differently to what they still see as a different child, or they could actually be starting to act self-consciously; it's not as interesting any more because they know who it is in the reflection.
It be at least another 9 months before the 'Troll develops mirror self-recognition as it's not until around 18 to 24 months that babies develop a proper physical sense of self, i.e. 'I am an object and that is what I look like'. What still unclear at this stage is exactly how much they have a true mental sense of self - that's the bit that is super interesting!
The mirror test is pretty much a gold standard method in psychology, but it doesn't mean a baby has not developed a sense of self just because they do not try to rub the make-up smudge off their nose. There are very interesting cultural variations in how babies react, which may be a reflection of how individualistic their societal environment is.
I can't wait to start smearing blobs of lipstick all over the 'Troll's face in the name of science!
Amsterdam, B. (1972). Mirror image reactions before age two. Developmental Psychobiology, 5, 297-305.