Show Details

Born Knowing

September 29, 2005

Some animal babies know how to take care of themselves from day one. One listener asks why this isn’t true of human babies.


Why do we learn? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bill Cabage of Maryville, Tennessee, wants to know:

BILL CABAGE (caller):
Why do people have to learn behaviors when animals are born knowing how to do things?

Psychologist Robert Provine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says humans’ reliance on things we learn, rather than on instinct, is actually a survival strategy.

ROBERT PROVINE (University of Maryland, Baltimore County):
If you were born knowing what to eat and who to mate with and so on, what would you do if your environment changed? What if your favorite food disappeared? You would be a goner. You would lack the adaptability that’s contributed to the survival of the human species.

So what seems like a handicap is actually an advantage. Call us at 1-800-why-isit with your science question. If we use it on the air, you’ll get a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.