Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hearsay: Baby Brain Development

In the law, it's called hearsay evidence and discounted....

However, Vaughan at Mind Hacks speaks well of an article in today's Boston Globe by Jonah Lehrer, who has done some excellent science writing. Link to Boston Globe article.

It reminds us we have much to learn about the way a baby's brain functions. In the Mind Hacks review, this caught my eye:

Newborns start with fewer synapses than adults but this number rockets, so by six months of age we have approximately twice as many connections. This tails off as the brain prunes connections on a 'use it or lose it' basis.

I'm always slightly awestruck whenever I view that graph as it is a vivid illustration of the incredibly rapid changes changes that take place as we grow and learn to make sense of the world.

And reading the BG article, I thought this was interesting...
By using new research techniques and tools, they've revealed that the baby brain is abuzz with activity, capable of learning astonishing amounts of information in a relatively short time. Unlike the adult mind, which restricts itself to a narrow slice of reality, babies can take in a much wider spectrum of sensation - they are, in an important sense, more aware of the world than we are.

This hyperawareness comes with several benefits. For starters, it allows young children to figure out the world at an incredibly fast pace. Although babies are born utterly helpless, within a few years they've mastered everything from language - a toddler learns 10 new words every day - to complex motor skills such as walking. According to this new view of the baby brain, many of the mental traits that used to seem like developmental shortcomings, such as infants' inability to focus their attention, are actually crucial assets in the learning process.
Finally, how many times do parents almost get their infant to sleep, only to have the slightest noise or motion startle them into wide-eyed awareness?

They might be better prepared if they knew this:
While adults automatically block out irrelevant information, such as the hum of an air conditioner or the conversation of nearby strangers, babies take everything in: their reality arrives without a filter. As a result, it typically takes significantly higher concentrations of anesthesia to render babies unconscious, since there's more cellular activity to silence.

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