It upsets some young parents to learn that, according to most developmental psychologists, babies aren’t actually conscious until their first birthdays at the earliest, and possibly as late as the middle of their second years (18 months).
Abject denial is based on nothing rational, of course, just that the baby looks like a little human, and consciousness being a generally accepted and fundamental attribute of humanness, the suggestion young babies are not conscious is to diminish the humanness of the human they created. “No offense, but your baby isn’t quite human yet.”
Never mind that “consciousness” is a hard concept to define. Just roll with it for now.
A new study published in Science this week suggests consciousness — if it can be identified by brain electrical patterns during visual recognition — may start as early as five months. PI Sid Kouider showed that the infants, when presented with familiar images, demonstrated subconscious, then conscious brain recognition patters similar to those observed in adults.
In Bruce Bower’s Science News coverage, he quotes Charles Nelson of Harvard Medical School saying, “I would be reluctant to attribute the same mental operation, such as consciousness, to infants and adults simply because of similar patterns of brain activity.”