6 Incredible Skills You Were Born With
As scientists learn more about human nature, they’ve made some remarkable discoveries about skills and traits that we may be born with.
1. The ability to teach
A new study published last month in the journal Royal Society Open Science suggests that the ability to teach — whether we’re showing a young niece how to tie her shoes or instructing an entire geometry class — is a vital and ingrained aspect of human nature.
The research contradicts previously held theories that teaching as we understand it — as the passing of detailed, instructional knowledge from one person to another — is a modern invention, according to Dr. Barry Hewlett, a professor of anthropology at Washington State University-Vancouver and lead author of the study.
“It is pervasive in the lives of so many in the world today, it is important to know if it is an invention of the modern world or is part of human nature,” Hewlett, who has been analyzing examples of teaching in the hunter-gatherer communities of the Aka people in central Africa, told The Huffington Post.
He noted that, of course, culture can play a big role in our teaching abilities. “Very few human behaviors are the result of only human nature (biology) or only culture,” Hewlett said. “They are the result of interactions between them.”
Natural teaching abilities aren’t the only skill that scientists believe may be universal. Scroll down to learn five ways that you’re more skilled than you probably thought.
2. Safety Skills
Scientists have long known that our bodies have amazing natural reflexes that help keep us safe in dangerous situations, from jumping when someone startles us to jerking our hands back when we touch hot surfaces.
Something even more extraordinary happens when infants are submerged in water. It’s called the mammalian diving reflex, and it involves an immediate decrease in heart rate that helps babies hold their breath underwater.
A 2002 study of 36 infants found that all of them experienced this reflex while diving in water. The infants were of various ages up to one year old and on average their heart rates decreased by 25 percent, according to the study, published in the journal Acta Paediatrica. The researchers noted that there is a decline of this reflex as we age — and this certainly doesn’t mean that babies can swim safely on their own.
3. Facial Expression Skills
You should be proud of your big, beautiful smile. Certain emotional expressions we make, from our grins when we’re happy to our furrowed brows when we’re mad, may be hardwired.
That’s according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which showed that athletes who had been blind all their lives and those who could see both made the same facial expressions when they won or lost a tournament during the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. The findings suggest that our various facial expressions are not something we learn from watching others.
“The statistical correlation between the facial expressions of sighted and blind individuals was almost perfect,” study author Dr. David Matsumoto, a psychology professor at San Francisco State University, said in a statement. “This suggests something genetically resident within us is the source of facial expressions of emotion.”
4. Number Skills
Even if you struggled with math as a child, being able to count may be an inherent skill, according to some research.
A 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that babies as young as six months old could tell the difference between a group of 20 items and 10 items. Those who were particularly successful at telling this difference received higher scores on standardized math tests later in life when they were around three years old. (See the video below.)
“When children are acquiring the symbolic system for representing numbers and learning about math in school, they’re tapping into this primitive number sense,” said study lead author Dr. Elizabeth Brannon, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, in a statement. “It’s the conceptual building block upon which mathematical ability is built.”
5. Language Skills
Linguists have long debated whether we are born with a “language instinct” — and have yet to reach a consensus. But one thing many scientists agree on is that we’re exposed to language while we’re still in the womb, which suggests that maybe we are born with some knowledge.
In 2013, an international team of researchers examined the brains of babies using electroencephalography brain-mapping sensors and discovered traces of auditory learning — evidence that the infants had heard different languages and sounds while still in their mothers’ wombs. Having such memories may help a baby’s ability to acquire language during infancy, according to the research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The part of a fetus’s brain that processes sounds can become active in the last trimester of a pregnancy.
“If you put your hand over your mouth and speak, that’s very similar to the situation the fetus is in,” Research co-author Dr. Eino Partanen, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Helsink in Finland, told Science magazine. “Once we learn a sound, if it’s repeated to us often enough, we form a memory of it, which is activated when we hear the sound again. … This leads us to believe that the fetus can learn much more detailed information than we previously thought.”
6. Imagination Skills
Active imaginations are simply a part of who we are, some scientists say.
The skill of “pretending” is thought to be a natural part of us partly because it is universal and often emerges on its own, between the ages of 18 and 24 months, and often children play imaginative games even when parents discourage it.
Seminal research conducted in 1990 suggests that this particular type of “sociodramatic” play, in which two or more children participate in shared make-believe, can stimulate social and intellectual growth, according to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
As adults, tapping into this playful use of our imaginations may spur creative thinking. Research suggests that play — whether you’re engaging in a board game, video game, or having fun with your kids or a pet — can relieve stress and might even boost creativity.
As fascinating as these skills may be, it is important to mention that the collective research is not providing genetically based evidence, Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University, told HuffPost.
In other words, our human nature may not be so clear-cut.