February 04, 2007

Baby Cognition

I'm finally getting around to reading a New Yorker article I'd clipped back in September:

THE BABY LAB. By: Talbot, Margaret. New Yorker, 9/4/2006, Vol. 82 Issue 27, p90-101. Online at the New America Foundation.

It's an investigation into Elizabeth Spelke's work at Harvard's Laboratory for Developmental Studies. The New Yorker does a good job summarizing the article:

"Margaret Talbot reports on the influential research of Elizabeth Spelke, a fifty-seven-year old cognitive psychologist who, over the past three decades, “has created a series of ingenious studies that have given us a picture of the baby mind which is far different from the long-standing view of it” (“The Baby Lab,” p. 90). Talbot writes that Spelke’s “signature idea,” which overturned many standard psychological precepts, is that “babies come into the world mentally equipped with certain basic systems for ordering it.” Karen Wynn, an infant-cognition researcher at Yale, says, “Spelke has done more to shape our understanding of how the human mind initially grasps the world than anyone else.” Talbot writes, “Spelke’s findings about how babies perceive objects—as solid and continuous, and perduring even when you don’t see them—have been widely replicated and are now firmly established in the infant-studies curricula. But her more ambitious theories of ‘core knowledge’ have their critics.” One of her most contentious ideas is her conviction that boys and girls are born with essentially the same cognitive tools. “We have a tendency, when we think intuitively about ourselves and other people, to greatly overemphasize differences,” Spelke says. “We think that differences we can see on the surface signal some deeper, underlying difference, and I think this is almost always an illusion.” "

If you're interested in infant cognition, or how scientists create experiments to test things -- especially in infants & toddlers -- this is a great read.

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