C. Rose Brain Series #5: The Developing Brain

Charlie Rose Brain SeriesThe fifth of twelve episodes in the series on the brain aired on February 23. Charlie and co-host Dr. Eric Kandel welcomed a panel of experts to discuss “The Developing Brain”:

  • Elizabeth Spelke, cognitive psychologist at Harvard and director of the laboratory for developmental studies;
  • Patricia Kuhl, professor at the University of Washington, director of the Center for Brain and Learning Sciences, author of The Scientist in the Crib;
  • Huda Zoghbi, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Research Institute at Baylor Medical Center, and a Howard Hughes medical investigator;
  • Stephen Warren, professor at Emory University in Atlanta, focusing on the causes of mental retardation.

Some of the highlights I noted:

  • Although much has been made of the dueling perspectives of B.F. Skinner and Noam Chomsky concerning language capabilities in children, neuroscientists are now learning that neither Skinner nor Chomsky were correct. The language faculty in children is due to both in-born genetics and environmental influences.
  • Regardless of culture or language, children learn language according to a predictable schedule:
    • 3 months – coo
    • 7 months – babble
    • 12 months – single words
    • 18 months – two-word sentences
    • 3 years – full sentences
  • The brains of infants begin immediately to construe and adapt to the causes they encounter in the world of their surrounding environment. The brains of infants are both the sculptor and the sculpted.
  • Children’s brains are continually developing new synaptic connections while they are also pruning some connections and stengthening others.
  • The brain is at once the product of genes, but also a “complex orchestra” of factors that influence the expression of those genes.
  • Parents should remember that they are their child’s first and best teacher.
  • Eric Kandel laments that by and large, the field of education has not been affected by scientific findings about how the brain works and looks forward to that synthesis in the future.

The episode can be seen online at: http://www.charlierose.com/watch/50036436

Following clips represent what I found most pertinent. (14:16) Most of the episode dealt with brain development of infants and children, their capacity for learning language, abstract concepts such as counting and numbers, and commending the early work in this field by Jean Piaget.