Thumbs down to baby signing

baby.jpgLast Tuesday‚Äôs Independent carried a feature by Lucy Cavendish, mother of one-year-old Jerry, on ‚Äòbaby signing‚Äô: the idea that teaching and communicating with your (hearing) pre-linguistic child via sign language speeds their language development, enhances their IQ and allows them to communicate with you before they can talk. The UK launch of leading baby-signer Joseph Garcia‚Äôs new book also spawned a similar feature in the Guardian, in July, by Lucy Atkins, who also happens to have a baby. The baby signing idea has apparently taken the US by storm, and now, in time-houroured fashion, has come over here to Britain where we’ve got over 100 baby signing classes of our own.

From reading the movement’s UK website, I gather the idea is that babies have some latent linguistic ability before their vocal chords have developed, which they can tap into using sign.

In the spirit of the Guardian’s Bad Science column I did some database searches on Joseph Garcia and he doesn’t seem to have published any research on baby signing, at least not since 1985.

However, the baby signing website says there’s masses of research and cites a load of articles in support of its claims. Most of the peer-reviewed research that’s directly relevant (for example see free PDF here) seems to have been conducted by California based psychologists Drs Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. Have they got a vested interest? Well, they’ve published over 10 popular books on the subject between them!

In 2003 the Royal College of Speech and Language therapists issued a statement that read ‚Äúit is not necessary for parents to learn formal signing such as British Sign Language for children with no identified risk of speech and language development‚Ķ The College is concerned that the use of signing does not replace/take priority over the need for parents to talk to their children”.

2005-09-02 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


Brain areas associated with pleasure and anxiety are activated when assessing risk.

Early research suggests that emotion can increase the risk of an attack in people with asthma.

The first book on vetinary psychiatry is published.

Safety Smock‘ – especially designed clothes for preventing suicide (nicked from BoingBoing).

More on Edinburgh University’s Koestler Parapsychology Unit, this time from The Guardian.

Computer scientists devise algorithm to ‘learn’ languages unaided.

Circadiana discusses the interaction between sleep cycles and Bipolar disorder.

Iron Maiden’s d√©j√† vu

eddie-figure-somewhere-l.jpgWhilst looking for an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry I came across this curious letter, noting an accurate description of déjà vu in the lyrics of an Iron Maiden song.

Sir: Sno, Linszen and De Jonge have <a href="reviewed a number of descriptions of d√©j√† vu in poetry and literature (Journal, April 1992, 160, 511-518). There is another particularly striking example. It is the song “D√©j√† vu” by Dave Murray and Steve Harris (1986) from the album Somewhere in Time by the rock group Iron Maiden. It vividly illustrates many of the points made by Sno et al in their article. The song gives an accurate phenomenological description of d√©j√† vu. It implicitly suggests reincarnation as an explanation and it refers explicitly to precognition (“And you know what’s coming next”) and to feelings of depersonalisation (“And you feel that this moment in time is surreal”). The full lyrics are reproduced here with the kind permission of Iron Maiden Publishing (Overseas) Ltd, administered by Zomba Musica Publishers Ltd.

When you see familiar faces
But you can’t remember where they’re from
Could you be wrong?

When you’ve been particular places
That you know you’ve never seen before
Can you be sure?

‘Cause you know this has happened before
And you know that this moment in time is for real
And you know when you feel déjà vu.

Feels like I’ve been here before (rpt. four times)

Ever had a conversation
That you realise you’ve had before
Isn’t it strange?

Have you ever talked to someone
And you feel you know what’s coming next
It feel pre-arranged.

‘Cause you know that you’ve heard it before
And you feel that this moment in time is surreal
‘Cause you know when you feel d√©j√† vu


Sno et al suggest that psychiatrists “should be encouraged to overstep the limits of psychiatric literature and read literary prose and poetry as well” because “novelists and poets excel in [the] ability to depict subjective experiences”. While agreeing with this point of view, I would go further. Literature and art are capable of an emotional response in the person who experiences them. This can lead to a far deeper empathic or subjective understanding of an experience than is possible from a scientific description. Wide reading and exposure to the arts enables us to share, if only partially and in completely, the experience of our patients. We can understand them better, not just at an intellectual level, but as people like ourselves.

Bill Plummer
Mental Health Advice Centre, Folkstone, Kent.

Rock on Dr Plummer. Even more intriguingly, the following letter in the same issue is about hypnotised lobsters, but I think that will have to wait until another time.

Link to letter’s PubMed entry.