Friday, March 05, 2010

Developmental Neuropsychology: The Infant Brain on BBC Radio 4

Available from BBC Radio 4:

In Our Time: The Infant Brain: Listen Here.

Description, from the BBC source link:

Melvyn Bragg and guests Usha Goswami, Annette Karmiloff-Smith and Denis Mareschal discuss what new research reveals about the infant brain.

For obvious reasons, what happens in the minds of very young, pre-verbal children is elusive. But over the last century, the psychology of early childhood has become a major subject of study.

Some scientists and researchers have argued that children develop skills only gradually, others that many of our mental attributes are innate.

Sigmund Freud concluded that infants didn't differentiate themselves from their environment.

The pioneering Swiss child psychologist Jean Piaget thought babies' perception of the world began as a 'blooming, buzzing confusion' of colour, light and sound, before they developed a more sophisticated worldview, first through the senses and later through symbol.

More recent scholars such as the leading American theoretical linguist Noam Chomsky have argued that the fundamentals of language are there from birth. Chomsky has famously argued that all humans have an innate, universally applicable grammar.

Over the last ten to twenty years, new research has shed fresh light on important aspects of the infant brain which have long been shrouded in mystery or mired in dispute, from the way we start to learn to speak to the earliest understanding that other people have their own minds.


Usha Goswami, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge and Director of its Centre for Neuroscience in Education

Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at the Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck College, University of London

Denis Mareschal, Professor of Psychology at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck College, University of London.

1 comment:

Sam TS Chow said...

Le Beaumont Language Centre in HK has been tracking down on the latest research in early brain development and language acquisition for the past 6 years. We have developed a program for infants and toddlers, with native speakers as playgroup teachers. Young babies are exposed to English, Putonghua, French, Spanish and Japanese from as young as 2 montsh. By the time they are 2 years of age, they are able to speak all the 5 languages as native speakers. The vocabulary is very limited, but the pronunciation is perfect.

We have around 900 children, 2/3 of whom are below 3 years of age, learning languages from native speakers through play.

Noam Chomsky raised 2 key questions:
(1) How can a baby know where a word in a sentence begin or end? Our observation: A baby's world of language is different from that of an adult. Babies' world of language in the first 15 months has no words, only sounds and rhythms, which they associate with particular actions or events. Chomsky's question was wrongly phrased.

(2) How can a baby 3 year old speak in perfect grammar? It must be inate, from an international grammar gene. Our findings: Babies aquire a language through 4 distinct stages. 1st stage, from birth to around 12 months, the development of the voice recognition system, with wiring of synapes through stimulation from words spoken by mom and other human beings; 2nd stage: immitation and production of these sounds, with all the details in pitch and rhythm; 3rd stage: vocabulary building, from 15th month onwards, when a child begins to ask "What is this?" 4th stage: pattern finding. A child is intensely interested in the patterns of words they use everyday. They become experts in pattern finding and applications. Grammar is learned in the 3rd year as word patterns through frequent usage, not inborn.