Top 10 Mind-Blowers: Babies and Toddlers

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Don't be fooled by their cute chubby faces and delightful babbling, because our larval humans are strange and powerful creatures. From their factory-installed brain power and culinary tastes to their monstrous biology, human infants and toddlers are damn-near beings from another world.

Prepare yourself. Here are 10 mind-blowing facts about the tiny humans who will one day replace us all and rule the world.

10
Children Are Tooth Monsters
Photographs by Stefan Schäfer

Baby skulls are weird enough with their tiny little toothless maws, but things just get weirder as they age. Behold the living tooth factory inside every child's skull. Where did you think those permanent chompers came from? Here we see the deciduous teeth (or baby teeth) and the buried pearly whites that will replace them -- and hopefully last it throughout its adult life.

Infants and toddlers, on the other hand, get to experience the monstrous and painful eruption of fresh deciduous teeth right out of their pink, pulpy gums. The process makes life miserable for everyone involved.

9
Babies Know The Numbers
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You can argue all day over whether math is a human creation or a human discovery. Either way, we come into this world pre-loaded with innate number sense.

Our brains naturally extract numbers from the surrounding environment in much the same way it identifies colors. Studies show that while infants have no grasp of human number systems, they can still identify changes in quantity. Three cheesy goldfish vs. six, there's a definite difference.

It might not feel like it when we're doing our taxes or splitting a restaurant tab, but we're all born accountants. Babies can estimate quantities and distinguish between more and less. It's all logarithmic thinking.

8
Babies Have Skull Windows
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Everyone knows that babies have soft spot on the top of their heads. It's called the anterior fontanelle and you can think of it as a membrane window into the skull.It fills in after a couple of years but until that time doctors can actually conduct baby brain scans using an ultrasound!

Our younglings have these strange little soft spots because our ancient ancestors jumped through two evolutionary hoops around the same time: walking upright and increased brain mass. The bipedal shift required a major reconfiguration of the birth canal: It became narrower just as our stupid brains were becoming fatter.

As such, the skull's fontanelles make the skull more malleable, deforming and stretching the head's overall shape so that mom can push the creature free. The two frontal bones of the skull can even slide past each other to squeeze through!

7
Babies are Tiny Sherlocks
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Think you can pull something over the larval ones? Well, think twice about your little lies because each baby or toddler is a natural-born Sherlock Holmes programed to figure out the world.

Each one is a natural Euclidian, born navigate a three-dimensional world of fixed and moveable objects. In other words, we start utilizing geometry before we can even name stuff. We don't understand "wall" or "cat" but already we can think in geometric terms.

For instance, kids use geometric clues to navigate through rooms. Given all the means of navigating their environment, they're most likely to use the lengths of walls in a room to remember where a toy is hidden rather than color or decoration.

We're also born with an innate understanding of basic physical laws. Only adults believe in magic, while a toddler sees right through all the supernatural BS. An MIT study even found that young children understand teleportation isn't feasible.

6
All Babies Are Unfinished
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As we just discussed, humanity's evolutionary ascension from quadruped to biped caused some problems. Heck, we can thank the stupid vertical misuse of our horizontal spines for everything from back pain to hemorrhoids. But it also made our birth canals smaller, requiring moms to push out the goods ahead of schedule.

Comparative biologists believe that human infants would stay in the womb longer if the escape path wasn't so narrow. This is why you'll often hear an infant's first three months of life referred to as "the fourth trimester." By all rights the little half-baked goblin should still be inside the womb, but we just had to start walking upright.

5
Babies Possess Synesthesia
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We've all heard stories about adults with synesthesia, their senses intermingled in a way that allows them to taste orange, see an E-flat and hear the music of a delicious glass of juice. It's supposedly what gives such self-professed synesthetic musicians as Richard D. James (AKA Aphex Twin) their edge.

But what if I told you that all babies are little Aphex Twins, and not in a creepy way?

Yes, according to a 2011 study published in Psychological Science, we come into this world with our senses so joined that stimulating just one of them reliably stimulates the others. They're essentially tripping at all times.

4
Babies Have Sponge Brain
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Babies come into the world with a lot of pre-loaded programing, but they still have a lot of learning to do. As the saying goes, little pitchers have big ears, because they're constantly soaking up information.

As such, infants are actually more conscious of the world around them than adults. It's just a different sort of conciseness, one more like a lantern than a flashlight. Their brains are soaked in neurotransmitters, brimming with neural connections as they immerse themselves fully in the sense world around them.

3
Babies Are Womb Poopers
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Babies poop anywhere they please and that includes inside your body. After all, the spend nine months in the womb and they're not just kicking and listening to Mozart in there. The fetuses, gentle reader, are pooping in their own amniotic fluid.

A 2003 study actually observed the anuses of 240 fetuses sonographically between weeks 15 and 41 of gestation. The researchers detected one or more defecations in every single test subject, especially during week 28 and 34 of gestation. We even have a name for this crap: meconium.

2
Babies Have Ghoulish Appetites
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Babies and toddlers are known to be picky eaters. Oh there are exceptions to the rule, but mostly they live in a different sense world when it comes to food. What would they eat if left to their own devices?

Well, according to a notable 1939 study, they'd probably gorge themselves on a ghoulish feast of brains and bone marrow.

Or at least that's what Clara Davis found in her famous study of self-selecting diet among orphanage babies. The test subjects were given the choice of various foods including fresh fruits, veggies, dairy, eggs, chicken, beef and a smattering of organ meats. They didn't pass up the brains - and bone marrow was the hands-down favorite.

Of course the Davis study is hardly bulletproof. You'll see it criticized as "largely a construct of assertions without evidence" while others point to some of its ideas in support of baby-led weaning.

"Gulp" author Mary Roach also points to a study from psychologist Paul Rozin that found children aged 16-29 months ate stuff like ketchup-laden cookies, dish soap and fake (but edible) dog poo in rather high percentages. At that age they haven't absorbed their parents' food prejudices yet.

Either way, gross.

1
Babies Are Tough as Nails
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We've established that babies and toddlers are skull-windowed, sponge-brained, tooth-faced, psychedelic monsters intent of usurping our rule. But here's one final bit of mind-rending horror: They're tough as nails.

I'm not saying babies and toddlers are bulletproof or anything, but they're also nowhere near as fragile as we often believe. Remember, we birth them by squeezing their flexible skull through a tube of muscle and invading bacteria. In no time at all they're ready to endure a world of bumps and bruises.

Their bones are more flexible than ours and they boast more of them, making toddlers better able to absorb impact. Plus their extra fat cushions their falls and provides stored energy for lean times. They're even better suited to emotionally handle stressful times than adults.

As related by Steve Kux and Geoff Lee over at Sketch Science ("sketchy" as in drawings), children between the ages of 2 and 6 have one of the highest survival rates of any age group.

We could not stop them if we wished.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.