Comments on The Infant Brain

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss discuss what new research reveals about the infant brain.

Programme information and audio


  • 1. At 09:45am on 04 Mar 2010, m32dave wrote:

    Your guests and programme have misrepresented and don't seem to understand Chomsky. I suspect this is because in line with the science commmunity's current proclivity for collective poor science, Piaget's Theory provides retrogressive rationalisation for their further dissections. Poor.

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  • 2. At 10:17am on 04 Mar 2010, David Nicholson wrote:

    Brilliant programme and great follow up to the neuroscience one now in the archives.
    But to get political does it not show the nonsense of the government way of counting school children’s years.
    I taught in schools and before I retired had to get used to the idea of saying a child was in year one or year five. As if they knew nothing when the joined the school.
    And the propaganda also talks of schools “adding value”. Added value is a term for profit, the excuse for buying for a penny and selling for tuppence.
    Only way to do that is dealing in slaves. Illegal in England. No wonder the Americans rebelled.

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  • 3. At 10:55am on 04 Mar 2010, Marie Derome wrote:

    We’ve just finished listening to In Our Time. Being, respectively, a trainee child Psychotherapist, and a former student of developmental psychology (at Oxford 25 years ago), we hoped the programme would be particularly rewarding, and we were anticipating a rich seem of new material representing the latest developments in your field. We could hardly have been more disappointed. To hear the same tired cliches about Piaget versus Chomsky dominate the programme from start to finish! That didn’t even feel new in 1988!

    But by far the most disturbing thing about the programme is that not one of the three of you (supposed leaders in your field) even mentioned the importance of the mother-child bond in cognitive and intellectual development. The cutting edge of developmental psychology, at least in so far as it has any applied relevance to society, is surely in the neuroscience of attachment theory.

    We realsie that clinical child psychotherapy is considered a different discipline to academic developmental psychology, but today’s programme would suggest that the dialogue between the two areas barely exists. And for the BBC to put out a programme entitled The Infant Brain without even seeking representation for the work of, say, Sue Gerhardt, Luois Cozolino, Lise Eliot or Alan Shore, is, frankly, negligent.

    It would be some reassurance to hear that there is genuine traffic between your world and theirs – even if at times it’s less than harmonious. And what a missed opportunity not to be able to hear that vital strand introduced into this morning’s rather arid discussion.

    Marie Derome and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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  • 4. At 10:59am on 04 Mar 2010, chris0 wrote:

    I think the programme needed someone from the pscyhoanalytical profession to include understandings about the emotional development of the infant mind. You were trying to distinguish between mind and brain but I thought your panellists were confused about this as most of their research was infact through observing infant behaviour, evidence of the mind, with just a few but interesting new undertandings about the "hard wiring" in the brain. It was also not clear what kind of questions they thought their discoveries would answer? Perhaps a psychoanalytical perspective would have focused the discussion in terms of the need for this science and research.
    Analysis has always been interested in understanding the causes of emotional pain and how experiences can be buried and how to release people from emotional traumas that can restrict our emotional intelligence and development as human beings. I don't think you can have a discussion about the infant brain without a contribution from this field and its many many years of working with patients and a history of "infant observations" to inform their work. There was a passing comment to Freud which was misleading in a representation of present psychoanlytical understandings and a final comment about "regulating emotions" in a sentence which was making a point about the infant having the same capacity as adults to use logic. The programme, of course made some really interesting points, but perhaps the magic bullet which eludes these scientists would be to keep in mind the human experience of relationship and emotion and how the quality of this interaction can build up or pull down our capacity to lead meaningful lives. Psychoanalysis is the closest we have to scientific research into this area through its many years of observing, writing, discussing with colleagues, working in consulting rooms with patients and now with well established professional bodies and rigorous training. We can be more than just curious about the way our brain takes in or builds on information and to this extent I thought the programme gave a limited and misleading image of the workings of the infant brain.

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  • 5. At 12:15pm on 04 Mar 2010, anonymity wrote:

    Part of a memorandon.

    . . . . . .

    The Oxford English Dictionary

    artificial intelligence, n.
    The capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behaviour; the field of study concerned with this. Abbreviated AI.

    Other than tittle tattle; I came across the actual argument years ago, by way of Roger Penrose. Never waste time with the argument!

    I’d been considering Logic, when, as it were, the penny dropped: Within the Scholarly boundaries of Physics (that includes, sciences and ologies).

    As such; Logic is deemed to be computational. For if it’s not computational, by definition it’s not Logic?

    Reason is not computational; until it becomes abstract. Schrödinger’s cat being a typical (Scholarly) example. Another, using deductive methods, would be through; Descartes.

    So! It can be said:

    Reason is without Logic;
    Here’s the Paradox:
    Logic propagates Reason;

    Potentially, this could resolve the AI argument. Not by removing the argument; That would be boring: Butt, changing it’s status to that of a Natural Paradox.

    . . . . . .

    ~ xxxxxxx 280210
    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Yesterday. With reason, I noted:

    I’ve heard it said ‘smell is the primary memory jogger’?

    If the first visually produced (by hand) communications were Pictorial? Then, would be unreasonable to reason that; The path of evolution would direct them into consciousness as symbols?

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Today’s I.O.T program:

    Much of what listened to today, I’d heard of or about, in one context or another:

    Whilst, I do very much appreciate the years of learning needed to acquire knowledge & the academic effort required to articulate as well as your quests did. They did however, without question: Demonstrate (to me) something of a missing link: That is. How little they actually understand; the abstract nature of technology.

    Another wonder full program.

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  • 6. At 2:43pm on 04 Mar 2010, wtempest wrote:

    Sorry for diverting from the topic, but there no longer seems to be a link / location for general In Our Time comments. I really appreciate the expansion of the Archive, however, it would be better if the programs archived as playable in iPlayer actually worked. Any program such as those featured on the front page of the In Our Time site are "unavailable in iPlayer" Of course, programs archived in RealMedia work like a charm. Will the iPlayer programs ever be available?

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  • 7. At 5:50pm on 04 Mar 2010, Jeanne Warren wrote:

    People talk about language without discriminating between speech sounds, grammar structures, and sometimes (not today) written language. These are all very different, and as far as I know Chomsky was talking about the second, but your contributors today talked about the first, and seemed to be bringing Chomsky into the discussion. It is quite possible to learn speech sounds by imitation, while still having an innate sense of deep grammar. In fact, without the latter, how do children constantly construct sentences which have never been heard before? Whereas they can obviously learn all the sounds by imitation.

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  • 8. At 8:51pm on 04 Mar 2010, Jane wrote:

    Mmm..just glanced through the comments. I thought the speakers represented the tentative beginnings of the almost unbelievable potential which technology can bring to this area of study...a bit like toes dipping into a vast ocean. I have to be honest and say that I would never have electric hairnets attached to my kids' heads...especially as tender infants - (I liked Melvyn's take on the hairnet thing). I would leave it to those whose young brains actually required further investigation and who could at least hope to derive a benefit from the process. I think we should treat the various 'waves' of physics with a healthy caution...the word 'unwitting' comes to mind. In a different sense, it's well known that a number of hapless children were 'unwittingly' damaged (psychologically) in early studies on child behaviour. Referring to other comments, a lot of interesting research has been done on the emotional requirements of baby monkeys...and the need for mother love figures strongly and intrinsically. The comparisons between animal and human brains (as talked about today) seem rather like the genetic comparisons in that they are not what we would logically expect...I thought that this was particularly interesting. I suppose the path of unraveling will be a long one paved with revelations, anomalies, false deductions, highs, lows, disputes...and the realization that 'there's much more to it' than was ever imagined. I hope the findings will give enough real understanding about the true 'nature of the beast' to begin to pull humanity out of its entrenchment... 'though there will be mighty 'echelonic' opposition. God bless the scientists in this instance....they could be stepping into absolutely incredible science. Best wishes as always...and thank you for shining the IOT torch in the direction of this fundamentally important subject. Jane

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  • 9. At 9:28pm on 04 Mar 2010, Jane wrote:

    'Unwitting' I wrote, not realizing that as I tapped it out,the word applied to me. My bathroom was being flooded by seven year old laddo and the bubbling potions he was pouring into the toilet cistern. "I've washed the floor for you".was the attempted escape route. Over the years, from a very young age, this infant's brain has cost me friendships and, at times, my rational sanity....let's not underestimate the infant brain! Jane

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  • 10. At 05:00am on 05 Mar 2010, David Cooper wrote:

    [Sorry if this is a duplicate, but my connection went just as I posted it and I'm assuming it didn't get through because it hasn't appeared. I assume it should have appeared straight away? Well, only one way to find out...]
    Piaget did a lot of harm to children by designing a great many flawed experiments which made out that they are enormously less capable than they acutally are, his work adding to the pressure on adults to imprison their children and cut them off from the real world. It's good to see new technology debunking a lot of his work and revealing the truth, but the lack of freedom children now have will be very hard to reverse.
    The programme began with the assertion that we can't have any memories of the first couple of years of our lives, but that is not the case. I have a clear and detailed memory which I'm pretty sure goes back to when I was 12 months old, and several more between that and two. I've discussed these memories with my parents, but they can't remember enough to confirm them, so there's no point in describing any of them here, even though the content of the earliest one gives a fantastic insight into the clarity and power of a baby's mind: people who don't have a memory of their own like it simply wouldn't believe it, and it isn't helped by the fact that it goes against a number of other scientific beliefs as well. I was able to tell that my father couldn't tell what I was thinking, I could understand what he was saying to me, I could think about the fact that I didn't know how to speak (and indeed I was worried that I might never be able to do so - my thoughts were as clear as day, but I had no hint of a mechanism in my head for putting words together into sentences to tell anyone what I was thinking). I also had difficulty controlling my arms and hands with precision, even though in my mind I knew exactly what I was trying to achieve. Maybe that could be tested with new technology, because the clumsiness was coming in somewhere down the wires: in my conscious mind, I was controlling a toy car with precision, but I was frustrated that my arms weren't responding accurately to the outputs.
    I don't know if new technology can will ever be able to distinguish real real early memories from false ones, but there is one thing we could do to push the science along, and that's simply to interrogate bright five-year-olds to see how far back they can remember and to see if their early memories can be proved. If we can find some who can be shown to have real memories of being 12 months old, that will make it easier for sceptical people to open their minds to the possibility that my earliest memory is real. Then you might want to hear the whole story.

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  • 11. At 11:18am on 05 Mar 2010, Jane wrote:

    I remember reading in various books about experiments with kittens and found this to quote: 'When a kitten sees only horizontal lines for the first few months of its life, for example, it loses the ability to see vertical lines. These and other experiments suggest that the interconnections between neurons aren't fixed at birth, but evolve depending on visual experience.
    "Experiments have shown that much of the structure thought to be innate or hard-wired actually develops during the early days or weeks of life," says Risto Miikkulainen, a computer scientist at the University of Texas, "and even in the adult these structures can reorganize ' (This, whilst interesting, does raise issues about the ethics of such use of animals.) I agree with others commenting here that babies and toddlers are infinitely more aware than is generally realized. I also think that nurture fundamentally shapes biology and that in a wiser and happier world, we'd have a lot less need for many aspects of science. Also, science is relative, and can only be objective up to a point, so it can mislead. The truest science needs to be an integral part of a whole schematic...and that's beyond us. Neuroscience does hold great potential and it's 'the way we do things' but in some ways it's as negative as it's positive....think about placebo...our biology isn't straightforward and maybe can't be simply reduced to straightforward scientific methodology.What are we doing with the information about the profound effect of the absence of love on monkeys? Writing academic books? I have to say that I constantly wonder how such a relatively advanced society can misunderstand the nature of life to the degree it's bewildering! Best wishes...Jane

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  • 12. At 9:42pm on 05 Mar 2010, Colin wrote:

    Melvyn, from your latest newsletter it seems you need to research a programme on ozone. 1: if you can smell it, it's poisonous; 2: there's more of it in urban areas than in the country or at the seaside. Besides, in liquid and solid form it's a beautiful purple colour (though highly explosive)

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  • 13. At 12:11pm on 06 Mar 2010, David Hadley wrote:

    Against the grain, the baby brains programme was such a disappointment. Piaget, Chomsky were all mangled: it was William James 50 years earlier who coined the term "blooming, buzzing confusion; Chomsky was not a nativist and why churn out a bit of early Freud when there are highly relevant contributions from the British Object Relations school in the '30s with observational evidence that infants models of the world are established in the earliest months. The linkage of this with recent attachment theory and the work of neuropsychologists is producing riveting stuff but we heard none of it.
    I was trying to figure out why it was such a let down and concluded that it was because, despite the efforts and knowledge of all, the focus was on baby as techie, not on the core issue of baby as relational being. To paraphrase Melvin Bragg, it was hairnets but no wisdom.
    Can this be remedied?

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  • 14. At 7:44pm on 06 Mar 2010, Andrea wrote:

    As an Early Years teacher with some experience, and a mother to 3 ( now teenage and grown ) children, I listened with interest to The Infant Brain. I am particularly interested in the development of very young children, as it seems that increasingly I teach children who come into the Early Years setting presenting Speech & Language and behavioural 'difficulties'. My concern is always that the age of the children in the reception year spans almost a whole year, which is a huge range in terms of their development. Some children are only 48 months old when I receive them into school. I have read research that shows that children are not able to understand the concept of 'sharing' until the age of seven. So why is it that they are expected to " Take turns and share fariley

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  • 15. At 7:46pm on 06 Mar 2010, Andrea wrote:

    Sorry - Andrea here again - I hadn't finished my comment, but accidentally sent it! Would you like me to finish it before it is posted?

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