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25 Adorable Facts about Babies

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Babies are aggravatingly cute, but to the uninitiated, they’re basically aliens. And even the most experienced parent or childcare provider can still be baffled by one of those amazing, screaming bundles of joy.

Whether you’ve sworn off kids forever or already have several of your own, here are 25 adorable, cheek-pinching facts about babies you may not know:

1. YOU CAN’T GIVE THEM JUST ANY NAME.

Many countries prohibit using profanity, numbers, or symbols in children’s names, but some take it even further. Norway won’t allow you to use a traditional last name as a first name. A French court recently ruled that a couple couldn’t name their child after a brand of delicious chocolate-hazelnut spread. Portugal bans parents from naming their child Nirvana. The U.S., however, is more lenient, and will let you name your kid Espn if you really want to.

2. IN SOME PLACES, BABIES ARE VERY RARE.

Earlier this year, a baby boy named Pablo became the first child born in Ostano, Italy in almost 30 years. He’s the town’s 85th resident.

3. THEY’VE EVOLVED TO BE ADORABLE. 

Babies are completely dependent on adults for their survival for the first few years of their lives, so they’ve evolved to maximize the amount of attention they get from their parents and other adult humans. Scientists have pinpointed specific infant characteristics that we find irresistibly cute (known as baby schema), like a large head, round face, large eyes, and protruding cheeks.

4. WE NATURALLY WANT TO SQUEEZE THEM. 

Yale University research has found that people tend to feel aggressive when confronted with photos of adorable babies and animals. A 2015 study found that having an intensely positive reaction to pictures of babies was linked to wanting to express aggression in ways like cheek-pinching. The researchers aren’t quite sure why this is the case, but hypothesize that it may be a way to regulate extreme positive emotions.

5. EVEN TODDLERS KNOW THEY’RE CUTE.

A 2014 study of children as young as 3 years old used baby schema and eye tracking to help understand what babies find most cute. The children could identify baby-like facial characteristics in people, puppies, and kittens. Interestingly, they rated puppies as cuter than other babies or kittens.

6. THEY’RE DRAWN TO SURPRISE.

A 2015 study found that babies focus more on objects that surprise them. The researchers found that babies learned more about objects that defied their expectations of the world, such as a ball that seemed to be able to pass magically through a wall.

7. THEY HAVE A UNIQUE REFLEX THAT DISAPPEARS WITH AGE.

The Moro reflex, where a baby will suddenly fling out her arms and legs and cry, is an involuntary response to feeling unsupported, but it can also happen as a baby is falling asleep, which is one reasons why swaddling is so useful for babies—it keeps them from waking themselves up with the Moro reflex. The reflex is unique to infants, and by 5 months old, healthy babies grow out of it.

8. THEY ALREADY KNOW TO HOLD THEIR BREATH UNDERWATER.

Babies instinctively hold their breath and open their eyes underwater in what’s called the dive reflex. This reflexive response to water decreases over time.

9. THEY REALLY DO LIKE LULLABIES.

A 2015 study found that babies remained calm for longer while listening to songs, even in unfamiliar languages, compared to regular speech.

10. THEY’RE WIRED TO IMITATE. 

Brain activity studies have shown that when babies watch others reach for objects, the motor control regions of their brains activate, too. This helps them understand other people’s actions and think about doing something similar themselves.

11. THEY CAN LEARN IN THE WOMB.

Scientists have found that babies can recognize sounds they heard from inside their mother’s womb, such as the theme song to their mom’s favorite soap opera. In 2013, a group of researchers found that infants who had been exposed to a made-up word during the last few months of their mother’s pregnancy recognized the word and variations of its pronunciation later on.

12. THEY CAN’T REALLY SEE.

Until they’re around 3 months old, babies can only focus their eyes about 8 to 10 inches away from their faces, though they can see light and movement. They don’t gain depth perception until around 5 months old.

13. THEIR TASTE PREFERENCES CAN DEVELOP BEFORE THEY’RE BORN.

While in the womb, babies swallow the amniotic fluid that surrounds them, tasting some of the flavors of the food and drink their mother has had in the process. In one study, babies born to women instructed to drink carrot juice during pregnancy or breast feeding liked carrot-flavored cereal more than babies whose mothers were told to avoid carrots altogether.

14. THEY EAT LESS THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

In the first three months of life, the USDA estimates that babies need between 438 and 572 calories over the course of a day, depending on their size. That’s only a little more than a single Big Mac.

15. THEY HAVE UNIQUE HAIR.

While some babies come into this world relatively hairless, others are born with a lot of whitish body hair, especially preemies. This soft, downy fuzz is called lanugo. It develops in the fifth month of pregnancy and if it isn’t gone by the time a baby is born, it usually disappears within a few weeks.

16. THEY STILL NEED PASSPORTS.

Even the youngest newborns need proper documentation to travel abroad. The U.S. State Department recommends taking a picture of your baby laying on a white sheet or sitting in a carseat covered in a white sheet to ensure her passport photo has a properly plain background. Canada doesn’t allow parental hands in the photo, but does note that the “Passport Program recognizes the difficulty in obtaining a neutral expression of a newborn and will allow for some minor variations in this regard.”

17. BABIES CAN GET CREDIT FOR THEIR PARENTS’ MOVIES.

Pixar recognizes “production babies” in the credits of its films. Starting with Toy Story, the studio began running lists of the given names of babies born to its employees in the year before a film’s release in the end credits. Now, some video games even list production babies in their credits.

18. IT WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE—HEALTHY, EVEN—TO DANGLE THEM OUT THE WINDOW.

In the 19th century, people living in dirty urban areas wanted to give their babies access to the restorative properties of fresh air. Without access to backyards and country homes, they came up with a workaround: the baby cage. In the 1920s, inventors came up with compartments that could be propped on window sills in high-rise buildings, effectively dangling enclosed wire cribs outside like air conditioning units. Wonder why that went out of style?

19. THEY CAN DO MATH.

Babies are born with some innate mathematical talents, namely being able to distinguish between orders of magnitude. They can tell the difference between a pattern of 10 dots and 20 dots, for instance. Having a greater intuitive sense of numbers at 6 months old predicted better math scores at 3 years old, according to a 2013 study. Another study found that 6-month-olds can detect math errors when presented with addition and subtraction problems represented by groups of dolls instead of numbers.

20. THEY’RE IPAD PROS.

A 2015 study of 270 families in Philadelphia found that 36 percent of kids had used some kind of touchscreen before they turned 1 year old. While the effect of technology use on kids’ development is still hotly debated, one thing is certain: kids love touchscreens. This is partially due to contingency, the notion that certain events are dependent on others [PDF]. So when a baby pokes at an iPad and makes a video play, she’s exploring contingency, and how her actions can shape the world around her.

21. THEY KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SKYPE AND TV.

Because they’re well attuned to social responsiveness (again, contingency) babies can tell the difference between a video chat with their grandparents and being addressed by a static character like Dora the Explorer as part of a television show. This level of tech-savviness can appear as early as 2 to 6 months old. However, they may not understand that Grandma and Grandpa don’t actually live in the computer until later.

22. THEIR HEADS SMELL AMAZING.

The smell of a newborn baby has been scientifically proven to be amazing. A study of 30 women sniffing newborns’ pajamas found that the scent increased activity in the brain’s rewards system.

23. THEIR BRAINS HAVE ALMOST AS MANY NEURONS AS AN ADULT’S.

A child’s brain changes dramatically over the first years of its life. But the number of neurons stays roughly the same from birth—somewhere between 86 and 100 billion. However, the brain will develop thousands more synapses (connections between neurons) in the first two years after birth.

24. THEY CAN SEE THINGS ADULTS DON’T.

Because babies’ eyes aren’t completely developed, 3- and 4-month-old kids don’t have perceptual constancy, or the ability to recognize the same object in different lights, sizes, and colors. But a 2016 study found that babies at that age can see slight differences in images caused by changes in illumination—while adults cannot.

25. THEY GROW UP SO FAST.

It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. In the first six months, the average baby grows up to an inch per month, and doubles in weight. By a baby’s first birthday, she’ll have tripled in weight since birth.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
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olympics
9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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