What exactly do babies think is going on when they Skype with their grandparents? Or when they watch TV? In both cases, they might react to the people on screen, but it’s often hard to tell exactly how they’re processing those images. Can they tell the difference between Grandma and Grandpa blowing them kisses in real time, and Dora the Explorer waving to them from the TV set? 

According to The Atlantic, babies are surprisingly savvy at differentiating between television and video chat. Several studies have shown that infants develop the technological fluency to distinguish between the two as early as six months old. They’re able to pick up on certain cues, like time lag and direct address, that distinguish between real-time chat and the faux interactions on shows like Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer. They also pick up on social cues from their guardians—parents can help babies understand what’s going on by showing them how to interact with people on screen. 

According to Elisabeth McClure of Georgetown University, “Babies are very sensitive to eye contact, physical contact, pointing at things, and all of those can be compromised.” Because of this, they can tell the difference between the responsiveness of a person on Skype and a character on a TV show. "Really tiny babies pick up on the social responsiveness of a person," says Georgene Troseth of Vanderbilt University. “If there’s something wacky about it, it bothers them.” 

That’s not to say that small children have a perfect understanding of video chat—it’s still hard for them to understand exactly what’s happening when they see loved ones inside the computer. McClure told The Atlantic the story of one little girl who would leave snacks for her grandparents behind her parents’ iPad. “The mother kept saying, ‘Where does Grandpa live?’ And the little girl pointed to the screen and said, ‘Right there!’" Mc Clure recalled. "And in a sense, that is where he lives. When you want to see Grandpa, you go to the screen and ask for him.”

[h/t: The Atlantic]