Learning reality in the first few months of life

Photo by Flickr user kton25. Click for sourceRadioLab has just released an excellent brief podcast on how babies’ experience of the world is quite different during the first months of life due to some startling differences in brain function that they rapidly lose.

It’s a discussion with developmental psychologist Charles Fernyhough who has pieced together the perceptual world of young children from studies on newborns.

It’s full of fascinating insights, like the fact that the lenses in the eyes of newborns have yet to acquired the yellow tint of adults which filters out blue light – so children see a much brighter whiter world.

One of the most surprising bits is about a phenomenon I’d never heard of before – something called sticky fixation – where babies lose control of their vision at about two months old and seem to lose the ability to look away from interesting things.

This seems to be due to the fact that vision is initially controlled by subcortical brain systems but about two months the control shifts to the cortex. During the ‘changeover’ the competition between the two systems seems to lead to the stalemate of sticky fixation.

It’s a really fascinating way to spend 10 minutes and I think virtually everything featured was quite new to me.

And if you’re wanting more about the fascinating science of baby development Edge has an interesting discussion with psychologist Alison Gopnik.

One interesting thing to note here is how Bayesian statistical models are now appearing everywhere in cognitive science as models of thought and behaviour.

Influential neuroscientist Karl Friston has been championing them as a ‘theory of everything’ for the brain for a couple of years now and they’re starting to be more widely accepted as you can see by the way Gopnik riffs about them with regards to infant psychology.

Link to RadioLab short ‘After Birth’.
Link to Edge on ‘Amazing Babies’ with Alison Gopnik.

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