Only 10 months to hone tots' tastes?

The artist Shubigi Rao is a woman full of intellectual mischief.

The sort who collects bits of styrofoam rubbish from local beaches, mounts them majestically so that they look like ancient friezes, then label them as archaeological exhibits from Singapore for an imagined future audience. Or who writes 100 books, and then dunks them in bathtubs of ink, so that none but the most determined can read them.

I met the India-born, Singapore-based artist at her recent "retrospectacle", as she coined it. There, we talked amid her works of art: loving arrangements of broken plastic spoons in glass cases; a machine that supposedly measures brain waves of those who have been "damaged" by contemporary art; and a heap of inked-out books.

Lingering over the brain-wave machine, which she had once presented at a convention of neurosurgeons, our conversation turned to the aesthetic tastes of babies.

Shubigi, the mother of an 18-month-old boy, told me that she had read a scientific paper (she reads these like how others read fashion magazines, for fun) on how people's tastes are formed by the time they are six months old. What you like at six months will largely determine what you like for the rest of your life.

"That's a little depressing," I said. I was thinking of the missed opportunities for exposing my kids, seven and three years, to more art while they were babies, and also that my own tastes will have little hope of being refined with age.

"I know," she replied.

I went home and looked up that paper. The Baby as Beholder: Adults and Infants have Common Preferences for Original Art is a psychology study by Seattle-based researchers Ursula Krentz and Rachel Earl, published in February this year.

In it, 36 undergraduates were shown 25 works of art from the Museum of Modern Art, before being shown the same works of art but subtly altered so that their complexity or contrast were "disrupted or attenuated".

Then, the same thing was done to 33 infants, ranging from six to 10 months old, whose faces were scanned by computers to determine how long they looked at each painting (the assumption being that the longer they looked, the more they liked it).

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