Monday, October 03, 2005


I’m a movie buff, have been since I was a junior high kid in the late 1940s who went to 8 movies a weekend for a time. Like Woody Allen I liked to get out of the house. Lately, I’ve noticed a new trend, a trend back to those old, really false portrayals of life that 40s and 50s movies presented us. Nowadays, bowing to the fanatically religious among us, movies sometimes present the viewer with what I’ll philosophically name “the three gratuities”—gratuitous violence, gratuitous sex and gratuitous god talk, all in the same movie.


Recent research into baby brains (no—not Bush’s, Rumsfeld’s or Delay’s brains) reveals several interesting facts according to a report which appeared in the August 15, 2205 NEWSWEEK:

[Open quote] The research shows how powerful emotional well-being is to a child's future health. A baby who fails to meet certain key "emotional milestones" may have trouble learning to speak, read and, later, do well in school. By reading emotional responses, doctors have begun to discover ways to tell if a baby as young as 3 months is showing early signs of possible psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, learning disabilities and perhaps autism.” [Close quote]

What’s interesting in the previous paragraph, if you’ve been reading my blog for some time, is how we can see that so many human traits are genetic, correctable, but genetic in nature. If babies can begin to show these emotional responses, then we can conclude that we are pretty well formed even before we enter the rough and tumble of the survival world.

I include the next information just because I find it so darn interesting.

[Open quote] One of the earliest emotions that even tiny babies display is, admirably enough, empathy. In fact, concern for others may be hard-wired into babies' brains. Plop a newborn down next to another crying infant, and chances are, both babies will soon be wailing away. "People have always known that babies cry when they hear other babies cry," says Martin Hoffman, a psychology professor at New York University who did the first studies on infant empathy in the 1 970s. "The question was, why are they crying?" Does it mean that the baby is truly concerned for his fellow human, or just annoyed by the racket? A recent study conducted in Italy, which built on Hoffman's own work, has largely settled the question. Researchers played for infants tapes of other babies crying. As predicted, that was enough to start the tears flowing. But when researchers played babies recordings of their own cries, they rarely began crying themselves. The verdict: "There is some rudimentary empathy in place, right from birth," Hoffman says. The intensity of the emotion tends to fade over time. Babies older than 6 months no longer cry but grimace at the discomfort of others. By 13 to 15 months, babies tend to take matters into their own hands. They'll try to comfort a crying playmate. "What I find most charming is when, even if the two mothers are present, they'll bring their own mother over to help. . . .” [Close quote]


You might wonder how researchers can claim to look into a baby’s brain and find out what they claim to know about babies. After you’ve read enough psychology, you begin to come across repeated techniques for understanding how psychologists do it and this NEWSWEEK article recaps some of the techniques.

“This might be a good place to pause for a word about the challenges and perils of baby research. Since the subjects can't speak for themselves, figuring out what's going on inside their heads is often a matter of reading their faces and body language. If this seems speculative, it's not. Over decades of trial and error, researchers have fine-tuned their observation skills and zeroed in on numerous consistent baby responses to various stimuli: how long they stare at an object, what they reach out for and what makes them recoil in fear or disgust can often tell experienced researchers everything they need to know. More recently, scientists have added EEGs and laser eye tracking, which allow more precise readings. Coming soon: advanced MRI scans that will allow a deeper view inside the brain.”

“Have children while your parents are still young enough to take care of them.” —Rita Rudner

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