One-month-old human infants learn about the social world while they sleep


Bethany C. Reeb-Sutherland, Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA; e-mail:


Although infants display preferences for social stimuli early in their lives, we know relatively little about the mechanisms of infant learning about the social world. In the current set of studies, 1-month-old infants underwent an adapted eyeblink conditioning paradigm to examine learning to both ‘social’ and non-social cues. While infants were asleep, they were presented with either a ‘social’ stimulus (a female voice) or one of two non-social stimuli (tone or backward voice) followed by an airpuff presented to the eyelid. Infants in the experimental groups displayed increased learning across trials, regardless of stimulus type. However, infants conditioned to the ‘social’ stimulus showed increased learning compared to infants conditioned to either of the non-social stimuli. These results suggest a mechanism by which learning about the social world occurs early in life and the power of ecologically valid cues in facilitating that learning.