My pals Kevin and m1k3y over at grinding.be recently posted about a little viral-intent video for the upcoming movie starring Bradley Cooper: Limitless.I'm intentionally trying to not read too much about this movie beforehand, so I can't really give a plot synopsis beyond what I've gathered from the YouTube video and Wikipedia write-up. But from what I've gleaned, apparently Bradley Cooper's character gets hold of an experimental drug ("NZT"), and quickly finds that it greatly enhances his cognition. Like, to super-human levels, such that he becomes super-focused and an information-integration machine to the point that he can predict the outcome of future events based upon careful observations. Cool stuff! The movie has a ton of potential and could be very fascinating.Now, for those of you who've been paying attention, this is a bit of an old topic. Scientists and bloggers have said pretty much everything that can be said regarding the ethics of cognitive enhancement. I can't really add too much, so I will instead direct you toward the relevant information.There was a commentary in Nature a few years back titled, "Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy," by some big name ethicists and neuroscientists. They take a nootropic-positive viewpoint, but offer some careful, cautionary words.That commentary was released around the same time as the famous Nature cognitive enhancement poll of scientists that showed that 20% of scientists had used nootropics.Not surprisingly, this got a ton of press, especially in new-media outlets such as Wired and boingboing. (It's also worth reading the April Fool's prank coordinated by PLoS Biology EiC, Jonathan Eisen, with his conspirator, Bora Zivkovic, among others, about this topic.)I've long been a fan of science fiction and, as I get older, I've also come to appreciate the role that sci-fi plays in non-fi society. Science-fiction can bring difficult topics of future possibilities into the cultural zeitgeist and get people talking about them. It can also help generate entirely new ideas to inspire future scientists and engineers. There's a great discussion from April of this year on NPR about just that. Specifically, Ira Flatow from Science Friday interviews Michael Okuda about the work he and his wife, Denise Okuda, did for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both of them worked as set and prop designers, and supposedly their work inspired the iPad, 23 years later. (Stories such as that abound in U.S. science and engineering!)So anyway, I'm looking forward to the movie. Hope they do the topic justice.Greely, H., Sahakian, B., Harris, J., Kessler, R., Gazzaniga, M., Campbell, P., & Farah, M. (2008). Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy Nature, 456 (7223), 702-705 DOI: 10.1038/456702aMaher, B. (2008). Poll results: look who's doping Nature, 452 (7188), 674-675 DOI: 10.1038/452674a... Read more »
Greely, H., Sahakian, B., Harris, J., Kessler, R., Gazzaniga, M., Campbell, P., & Farah, M. (2008) Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy. Nature, 456(7223), 702-705. DOI: 10.1038/456702a
Your witnesses can make your case. They can also make your case a dog. I was called several months ago to do witness preparation for trial on a commercial case that was, before our key witnesses flamed out in deposition, viewed as a mid-7 figure case. After a dismal deposition performance, the plaintiff attorneys that [...]
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Larson, B., & Brodsky, S. (2010) When Cross-Examination Offends: How Men and Women Assess Intrusive Questioning of Male and Female Expert Witnesses. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40(4), 811-830. DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00599.x
This research paper describes a clever way to redefine and redraw geographical areas using telephone communication networks... Read more »
Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, & Steven H. Strogatz. (2010) Redrawing the Map of Great Britain from a Network of Human Interactions. . PLoS ONE, 5(12). info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0014248
The paper I discussed earlier on the connection between plow-based agriculture and highly inegalitarian gender roles was based on a theory proposed by Ester Boserup. Boserup was a Danish economist who had a lot of interesting ideas about the relationship between population growth and agricultural intensification. She’s best known for arguing that intensification of agricultural [...]... Read more »
Stone, G., & Downum, C. (1999) Non-Boserupian Ecology and Agricultural Risk: Ethnic Politics and Land Control in the Arid Southwest. American Anthropologist, 101(1), 113-128. DOI: 10.1525/aa.19188.8.131.52
Torture has received a great deal of deserved media attention in recent years. In large part this is due to people who should know better somewhat shamelessly jumping through legal hoops in attempts to distinguish which ways of abusing their fellow humans are acceptable and distinct from torture. This should be surprising in the current [...]... Read more »
Williams AC, Peña CR, & Rice AS. (2010) Persistent pain in survivors of torture: a cohort study. Journal of pain and symptom management, 40(5), 715-22. PMID: 20678891
The postulated connection between plow-based agriculture and a highly inegalitarian system of gender roles that I was talking about in the previous post reminded me of another paper about plowing and gender in a very different context. This article, by Robin Ganev of the University of Regina, was published in the Journal of the History [...]... Read more »
Ganev, R. (2007) Milkmaids, Ploughmen, and Sex in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 16(1), 40-67. DOI: 10.1353/sex.2007.0037
Neuroeconomics is a big buzzword.Behavioural economics and the psychology of decision-making have rich histories, but with emerging brain imaging technology, we're now able to peer into some of the intricacies of neural processes as they occur while someone is making an important financial decision. The hope is that studies of brain activity will help guide economic theory and practice.In a study recently published in PNAS, Japanese researchers used functional MRI to examine brain responses to a phenomenon that challenges current economic theories, known as the "undermining effect." They found that people who were most susceptible to this effect also showed greatest changes in brain responses while playing a game that involved financial incentives.The undermining effect is a well-known psychological phenomenon in which a person is less likely to voluntarily engage in a task after performing that task for some sort of extrinsic reward, such as money or good grades. An example is a potential effect of schooling -- students who are forced to read Shakespeare because they are being graded on it are probably less likely to read Shakespeare for fun afterward than someone who didn't study Shakespeare in school. The researchers investigated the neural basis of the undermining effect by dividing study participants into two groups and scanning each person's brain twice. Both groups participated in a fun task, called the "stopwatch" task, wherein subjects viewed a stopwatch timer going from zero to five seconds, and they had to press a button within 50 milliseconds of the 5 second time point (if you don't believe this sounds fun, try it for yourself with a digital watch). One group received financial rewards (200 Japanese Yen or about $2.20) for doing this correctly, while the other group didn't receive performance-based rewards. The group receiving financial rewards showed greater activity in areas of the brain previously associated with award, the anterior striatum and midbrain, when subjects were winning money.Then participants got out of the brain scanner and waited in a quiet room, where they had free time to play the fun game or do anything else. As predicted by the undermining effect, those who were receiving financial rewards for their earlier performance on the fun game spent less time playing the fun game than those who weren't receiving awards. Then all subjects got back into the brain scanner, and they performed the fun task again, but crucially this time nobody received any financial rewards. More free time was given after the second scan, and once again the subjects who had earlier received money for their performance spent less time playing the fun game.The most interesting finding revealed by analysis of the brain activity was that individuals who played the fun game the least during free time also showed the greatest differences in reward-related brain activity between the two brain scans. In other words, those who felt most rewarded by financial incentives (as measured by brain activity) were the same individuals who were least likely to engage in the fun game when given free time. This suggests that the undermining effect is strongest in individuals who think of money as a reward.If the goal of neuroeconomics is to reveal information about behaviour that cannot be attained through psychological testing alone, this study appears to have succeeded. Importantly, it shows that each brain responds differently to incentives, and reward-related brain activity can predict the undermining effect within an individual. This is particularly interesting because it shows that not all individuals should be treated as equal in economic models of decision-making and incentive-driven behaviour.The findings also have implications for policymakers who often implement incentives in domains such as public health and schooling. As demonstrated by the undermining effect, removing extrinsic incentives to engage in an activity can have damaging effects on the desire to voluntarily engage in that activity.As to whether the study will succeed in impacting economic theory and practice -- that's for the economists to determine.Reference: Murayama K, Matsumoto M, Izuma K, & Matsumoto K (2010). From the Cover: Neural basis of the undermining effect of monetary reward on intrinsic motivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107 (49), 20911-6 PMID: 21078974... Read more »
Murayama K, Matsumoto M, Izuma K, & Matsumoto K. (2010) From the Cover: Neural basis of the undermining effect of monetary reward on intrinsic motivation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(49), 20911-6. PMID: 21078974
Credit: Scott Hampson
It's no secret that the Internet is a black hole when it comes to time. Fifteen minutes on Twitter spirals into an hour or two of witty banter. A quick stop on Facebook to read statuses or water crops becomes three hours looking at photos from someone's vacation or wedding. (And email? Fuggedaboutit!) But it's easy to be online—simple and almost instantaneous access to all your friends and connections, and none of them need to know you're in your pajamas. And you can reinvent yourself online, which is handy for those of us with histories of awkwardness (or present awkwardness for that matter). The Internet is always with us. It's in our pockets and bags on our phones, and wherever free WiFi can be found for those with netbooks, tablets, and laptops, which provides us with a handy way to escape uncomfortable situations—how many of your with smart phones have checked (or pretended to check) email, Facebook, or Twitter at a party where the conversation wasn't going quite right?
For adolescents and teens in particular unmonitored access can quickly lead to problematic Internet use (PIU), which in turn can develop into Internet addiction. In a relatively small study, researchers Milani, Osaualdella, and Di Blasio (2009) discuss the ways online social interactions can help adolescents develop a sense of belonging, particularly in instances of self-imposed or group-driven social isolation. Online social interactions in these cases offer simple ways of restoring a sense of normalcy:the association between loneliness and the negative consequences of Internet use is effectively mediated by the preference for online social interactions, which allows individuals with particular problems in this are to perceive themselves as more secure and more at ease than in traditional face-to-face interactions [Caplan 2007 by Milani et. al. 2009] (681).Using a sample of Italian students, Milani and colleagues demonstrated the potential relationship between PIU, quality of interpersonal relationships, coping skills, and capacity to internalize/externalize social norms. To this end, they employed the following tools:an Italian-version Internet Addiction Test (IAT) (cutoff score for PIU is 50, and effective dependence is 80);
Test of Interpersonal Relationships (TRI), which measures the quality of relationships;
an Italian-version Children's Coping Strategies Checklist (CCSC), which measures coping skills;
and a Questionnaire for the Recording of Internet Use Habits, which measured participants' browsing habits.
Approximately, 37% (of a sample population of 98) participants had an IAT score of 50 or higher. The small sample size for this study is a bit problematic, but the researchers believe that their data demonstrates that adolescents with PIU have less quality relationships in their lives: These individuals scored higher on sub-tests within the CCSC for avoidance behaviors as a coping strategy. Avoidance behaviors can be a predictor for PIU as the authors report that there is a connection between Internet dependency and certain personality traits, such as preference for solitary activities and low social openness (2009: 681).This, adolescents with poor interpersonal relationships and a predisposition for adopting an avoidance coping strategy are at a greater risk of developing PIU (683).The bottom line is that socializing online cannot substitute for real life connections, particularly for adolescents who are still learning and developing strategies for coping with real world situations and relationships. This is not necessarily new news, but as the DSM-V considers whether to include IAD, studies such as this confirm the impact of digital technologies on our lives, and invite a closer look as potential long-term effects.
Cited:Milani, L., Osualdella, D., & Di Blasio, P. (2009). Quality of Interpersonal Relationships and Problematic Internet Use in Adolescence CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12 (6), 681-684 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0071
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Milani, L., Osualdella, D., & Di Blasio, P. (2009) Quality of Interpersonal Relationships and Problematic Internet Use in Adolescence. CyberPsychology , 12(6), 681-684. DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0071
by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room
Evolutionary psychologists do some weird research. But we’re not holding that against them. I mean, we’re talking about evolution. Instead, we’ll take what they find and translate it for your use at trial. But this is odd! Australian researchers (Burke & Sulikowski, 2010) looked at tilting heads and attractiveness in the eyes of observers. What [...]
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Darren Burke, & Danielle Sulikowski. (2010) A New Viewpoint on the Evolution of Sexually Dimorphic Human Faces. Evolutionary Psychology, 8(4). info:/
Calgary's new mayor, Naheed Nenshi, like Barack Obama, staged an upset victory with the help of social networking. Will he, unlike Obama, succeed in changing the political game? Continue reading →... Read more »
Kaid, L. (2009) CHANGING AND STAYING THE SAME: COMMUNICATION IN CAMPAIGN 2008. Journalism Studies, 10(3), 417-423. DOI: 10.1080/14616700902812728
Enhancing supply chain resilience with flexibility and redundancy is one way to counter supply chain disruptions. But do the chosen resilience measures actually play a moderating role in reducing the frequency of supply chain disruptions? This article paints an interesting picture of how supply chain professionals view risk, which risk they perceive and what they do in reaction to these risks.... Read more »
Zsidisin, George, & Wagner, Stephan. (2010) Do Perceptions Become Reality? The Moderating Role of Supply Chain Resiliency on Disruption Occurrence . Journal of Business Logistics, 31(2), 1-20. info:other/
I'm not surprised, are you?A study out of the journal Sex Roles took a look at preschoolers' attitudes towards obesity by means of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. They took 55 girls aged 3-5 and had them choose which character they wanted to be. 69% chose the thinnest, 20% the average and 11% the largest. Moreover when asked to swap thinnest for largest, 63% refused.One of the study's authors apparently was surprised by the findings and she was quoted in the Montreal Gazette stating, "I was surprised that kids as young as 3 were so emotionally invested in their game piece that they would say to a complete stranger, 'No, I don't want to switch with you. No, I hate that one'. It was completely shocking to me"Really?You were surprised that 3-5 year olds didn't want to switch from the character they initially chose by themselves? I'm guessing you don't have kids or you've forgotten what 3-5 year olds are like.I'm also not shocked by the bias.Why?Because kids' movies quite regularly point out that fat is either bad, clumsy, funny or stupid, and unlike thin villains and foils, obese characters' weights are almost always central to the jokes and situations they find themselves in so even when not an outright villain like Ursula, they are shown to succeed despite their weights (Kung Fu Panda and Shrek leap to mind).Oh, and lots of parents say awful things about weight. Whether it's comments like, "Do these jeans make me look fat" or disparaging remarks about others, it's not as if weight isn't the last socially acceptable form of stereotype and it's not as if kids don't pick up on the things their parents say.So colour me unsurprisingly sad by this study. It's too bad that the authors didn't take their sound bite opportunities to drive home how sadly unshocking these results were.Harriger, J., Calogero, R., Witherington, D., & Smith, J. (2010). Body Size Stereotyping and Internalization of the Thin Ideal in Preschool Girls Sex Roles, 63 (9-10), 609-620 DOI: 10.1007/s11199-010-9868-1
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Harriger, J., Calogero, R., Witherington, D., & Smith, J. (2010) Body Size Stereotyping and Internalization of the Thin Ideal in Preschool Girls. Sex Roles, 63(9-10), 609-620. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-010-9868-1
by Richard in A Replicated Typo 2.0
In an attempt to write out my thoughts for others instead of continually building them up in saved stickies, folders full of .pdfs, and hastily scribbled lecture notes, as if waiting for the spontaneous incarnation of what looks increasingly like a dissertation, I’m going to give a glimpse today of what I’ve been looking into recently. . . . → Read More: Fungus, -i. 2nd Decl. N. Masculine – or is it?: On Gender... Read more »
Bapteste E, O'Malley MA, Beiko RG, Ereshefsky M, Gogarten JP, Franklin-Hall L, Lapointe FJ, Dupré J, Dagan T, Boucher Y.... (2009) Prokaryotic evolution and the tree of life are two different things. Biology direct, 34. PMID: 19788731
by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room
Close your eyes. Think of a nervous witness you have had to prepare for trial. Beads of sweat on their upper lip. Nervous throat-clearing. Trembling hands. Shaky voice. Deer in the headlights expression. Testifying can be terrifying and we’ve all had the experience of attempting to take the edge off of the visible anxiety of [...]
Related posts:Preparing the Witness: Sometimes it’s easy (sometimes it’s not)
‘Lawyerese’ may work well in journals but not in the courtroom!
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Boccaccini, M., & Brodsky, S. (2002) Believability of expert and lay witnesses: Implications for trial consultation. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(4), 384-388. info:/
Tenney ER, MacCoun RJ, Spellman BA, & Hastie R. (2007) Calibration trumps confidence as a basis for witness credibility. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 18(1), 46-50. PMID: 17362377
This is the first in a series of blog posts about my experiences undertaking an ongoing research project. In this series I will be detailing some of the methodological challenges I encounter as well as the strategies I adopt to … Continue reading →... Read more »
Maher, J. C. (2005) Metroethnicity, language and the principle of cool. International Journal of the Sociology of Languages, 83. info:/
Evolution never got much time in my elementary school science classes. When the topic came up, inevitably near the end of the term, the standard, pre-packaged historical overview came along with it. Charles Darwin was the first person to come up with the idea of evolution, and, despite the ravings of religious leaders offended at [...]... Read more »
Switek, B. (2010) Thomas Henry Huxley and the reptile to bird transition. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 343(1), 251-263. DOI: 10.1144/SP343.15
How US strategic antimissile defense could be made to work From Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Contrary to a new nuclear strategy adopted by the US government in April 2010, that relies on assumptions that the current missile defense systems will reliably protect the continental United States in the extreme circumstances of nuclear-armed combat, now research [...]... Read more »
Lewis, G., & Postol, T. (2010) How US strategic antimissile defense could be made to work. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66(6), 8-24. DOI: 10.1177/0096340210387503
"What's new, fresh, exciting, different, what people are going to say 'Gee, is that right'? (Newspaper medical reporter, Leask et al., p. 4)Being a health journalist isn't easy. There's the deadline, there's the expert who still hasn't called you back, the editor who wants a nice picture to go with the report...The authors of "Media coverage of health issues and how to work more effectively with journalists" interviewed sixteen Australian reporters, editors and producers in print, radio and TV in order to learn more about the challenges they face. They were asked about their job in general and about reporting avian/pandemic influenza in particular (the study took place between October 2006 and August 2007). NewsworthinessTo be "newsworthy" a story has to have the right timing, at the pick of the hunt for news. Journalists are looking for sensation (the avian flu is the new Black Death!) for actual news (like a new medical development) and controversy. For TV, the story better have good visuals. Journalists are aware of stories from other news outlets and choose which news to reports and from what angle so they'd be able to distinguish themselves from the competition. They often use local sources and aim for local audiences as ways of providing that interesting, novel angle. SourcesJournalists' sources can be passive (PR) or active (calling experts and reading medical journals). Naturally, journalists prefer to interview people who are "accessible, independent, highly respected in their field, and preferably doctors." They want their sources to provide fast information, which can be easily digested by their audience. That is especially true for reporters without much scientific or medical background. In TV, the images often determine whether a story will be broadcast and how prominent it will be. EthicsThe authors of the paper not that "as in other studies, journalists articulated an overwhelming commitment to keeping the public informed". Journalists try to reduce sensationalism by accurate, in-depth reporting. The journalists in the study often commented that they have to be critical and objective in their reporting. That's quite a different approach from the one which was common a few decades ago, when journalists were mostly functioned as science cheerleaders (read Dorothy Nelkin's excellent book "Selling Science" for more details). SpecialistsLike in the paper I blogged about in my previous post, the current paper found that "specialist health and medical reporters had much greater capacity to produce better quality health stories." These specialist reporters usually have better understanding of the technical aspects of medical issues. They also enjoy more autonomy within news organizations and rely more on their own contacts and sources than on PR. Their prestige as 'pros' allows them to advocate which stories are most 'worthy' to run. Getting your health story in the news: a short guide for the confused scientistTiming. Call the journalist in the morning, which is "peak story sourcing time". For broad distribution, try contacting the news agencies.Be available. Return phone calls fast, drop other things if you have to. Provide pre-prepared resources. Anything from definitions to images, and don't forget the sound-bite quotes.Find a personal touch. Give the journalists an easy way to appeal to the average person. Stay networked. Be in touch with medical reporters, provide them with scientific background and stories*Appeal to ethical values. Find good moral reasons why the journalist needs to see (and write about) things your way. Leask J, Hooker C, & King C (2010). Media coverage of health issues and how to work more effectively with journalists: a qualitative study. BMC public health, 10 PMID: 20822552Nelkin, D. (1995). Selling science: How the press covers science and technology (rev. ed.). New York: Freeman.*Feeding them might help as well.... Read more »
Nelkin, D. (1995) Government Printing Ofﬁce. Nelkin, D. (1995). Selling science: How the press covers science and technology (rev. ed.). New York: Freeman. info:/
By BrandonDevelopmental Milestones: Fact or Myth?As parents, we are almost constantly comparing our child to someone else's child (or even to our own children who have already gone through that phase of life), and there always seems to be something to fret about. Are you worried that your child isn't saying enough words yet, or isn't walking and he's already a year old? These are common concerns, especially for new parents.
In my undergraduate and graduate training (and as a parent) I have learned that all of these milestones, as they are called, should really be taken "with a grain of salt." Your child is unique, and although I am glad that researchers took the time to examine 'what is normal development' this results in average time frames, where very few children actually fit exactly the time frames that the development textbooks mention. Ok, so now you can calm down. (Note: If your child is far past what the milestones say then this may be cause for concern, and you should talk with your pediatrician.)
Recently, researchers have come to realize that we cannot only describe the 'normal' progression of infant and child development by time frames and say that this is a universal truth. Instead, Thelen (1995) for example wrote a piece entitled "Motor Development: A New Synthesis" which appeared in American Psychologist (a prominent scholarly journal). This author explains that motor development (which is typically what we parents talk about, i.e., "Yay! Johnny is walking now!" and "Oh! I had to baby-proof the house, because Amber is crawling!", etc.) is caused by a variety of factors (i.e., "multicausal").
Exploration and Selection in Infant DevelopmentI will not go into all of the technicalities, but basically there is no "innate" quality in your child of crawling, walking, reaching, etc. All of these 'milestones' as we call them come about through exploration and selection. The first step for your child is for him to "discover" movements that get him "into the ball park" that the task demands--"a tentative crawl or a shaky few steps" (p. 86). Then, gradually your child will tune this new movement through repetition of action and perception of the consequences. For example, early in infancy your baby may flail his arms instead of grabbing the toy next to him, but this random flailing gradually becomes more and more fine tuned as he realizes what it takes to make his arms function in grabbing the toy. (In the figure below, imagine the square as being an infant and the circle as a toy. Then, the black lines are the infant's attempts at grabbing the toy. Over time, the infant tunes this motor skill. For instance, notice the concentration of lines toward the toy over time. Pardon my paint drawing skills.).
Instead of an innate quality in the brain that determines that your baby will reach correctly at a certain age it is just that we as human beings have bodies that are all similar enough that we all come to the similar conclusions on the best way to reach (or walk--for instance, the author mentions that if we were on the moon we would likely all come to the conclusion that jumping was the best way to get around, and thus it would appear that jumping is innate around a certain age, even though it is not innate).
Seeing development this way would account for individual differences in "activity levels, body build and proportion, neural growth, [etc.]...Infants, in a sense, do the best they can with what they have. Nonetheless, because humans also share anatomy and common biomechanical and task constraints, solutions to common motor problems also converge: We all discover walking rather than hopping (although our gait styles are individual and unique)" (p. 91).
Motivation and Developmental MilestonesAnother key thing to understand is that your child will develop when he is ready and motivated to do that particular thing (although not denying that there are constraints like being physically strong enough to walk, etc.). If your child has no desire to walk, then he will most likely not put forth the effort required to gain that motor skill. These milestones come about from individual motivation, not from "prespecified genetic instructions" (p. 86). Put another way, "The process is self-organizing because...what is needed to get the process going are only sufficient spontaneous and exploratory movements and some general [motivational value] for the infant...There is no genetic plan" (p. 91).
This is a very different view from the traditional developmental milestones view. Generally, parenting packets, textbooks, websites, etc. will tell you that your child should be doing things by a specific age, but really there is a wide range in individual development as children explore their world and slowly fine tune their movements.
Feel free to leave comments and questions.
Thelen, E. (1995). Motor development: A new synthesis. American Psychologist, 50 (2), 79-95 DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.50.2.79
Image: Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Human and bonobo ape hands. © SPL
New Yorkers are hand talkers—we often use gestures to add emphasis to our conversations. Whether we're pointing to direct tourists, or waving to demonstrate our exasperation with traffic, drivers, or pedestrians, or trying to interject (New Yorkers don't interrupt!) we're gesticulating. We're not the only ones to do this, of course, but in my experience we do tend to employ this element of communication fairly frequently.
The role of gestures in communication has been on my mind recently because my goddaughter is just beginning to communicate beyond crying and laughing. She recently celebrated her first birthday, and she's begun to speak her first words. ("Shoe!" is a favorite even when it is in fact a sock, as is "No!" and "Elmo!" I'm working on "Dinosaur" but that one is slow going.) It's extremely exciting. I find it really interesting that she points with increasing frequency to emphasize her exclamations—Elmo isn't just a word, he's a recognizable part of her world, from the decorations that were a part of her birthday celebration to her stuffed muppet that laughs when shaken. Her gestures help her bridge a communication gap.
Gestures are an integral part of language. Arbib, Liebal, and Pika (2008) believe that gestures, via pantomime and protosigns, may have played a large role in the emergence of vocalization (protospeech) leading to the development of protolanguage (1054). Their hypothesis is based on the structure of the brain, specifically a mirroring of structures in the brain: near Broca's area, a region of the brain said to be involved in language production, is a region "activated for both grasping and observation of grasping" (1053). The proximity of a grasping region to a language region is intriguing. Individuals who have suffered damage to Broca's area have difficulties with language production. They can often understand others perfectly, but they have difficulty responding in all but the simplest of ways. Arbib and colleagues suggest that because damage to Broca's area also impedes the emergence of signed languages as well, the region should be understood in relation to multimodal language processes and not just vocalization. They believe this creates a strong case for understanding the place of gestures in the evolution of language.
Gestures are common to many species of monkeys and apes, however, usage seems to vary between captive and wild groups. For example:Siamangs have demonstrated at least 20 different tactile and visual gestures in captive groups (1).
Approximately 10 different gestures have been reported for wild orangutans and 30 have been described for captive groups,
Captive gorillas use at least 30 different tactile, visual, and auditory gestures—but little is known about their gestures in the wild.
Chimpanzees also have a large repertoire of gestures in captivity, with about a dozen having been recorded in the wile.
These numbers refer to entire populations. Within the group, an individual's use of gestures depends on age, sex, and rank. There are also group-specific gestures, such as:"Offer arm with food pieces" in orangutans, "arm shake" in gorillas, and "punch" in bonobos are examples reported from captive groups, while "leaf clipping" and "grooming hand clasp" are described as group-specific gestures in wild chimpanzees (1057). Small, stable groups tend to have less intra-group variability than large, socially complex groups. Larger groups tend to have greater variability between members, requiring greater variety and variability in communicative means.
Adult male gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)
with a two-year-old juvenile. © SPL
The higher number of observed gestures in captive groups also hints at an ability to learn (2). Basic forms of gestures and communication seem to be genetically preprogrammed (e.g., "chest beat" has been reported for gorillas that had never seen other gorillas). A process called ontogenetic ritualization may explain how gestures are learned—"a communicative signal is created by two individuals shaping each other's behaviors in repeated instances of an interaction over time," allowing behaviors to become signals (Arbib, Liebal, and Pika 2008: 1058). The example the authors provide is the "arm rise": a stylized gesture that chimpanzees use to signal that they are about to hit each other and initiate rough-and-tumble play (3). Gestures are also used referentially, indicating that they can be intentionally deployed to manipulate or direct the actions of others. Captive chimpanzees, for example, use the "directed scratch": a loud and/or exaggerated scratching motion to indicate where the grooming partner should focus attention (1057).
This discussion supports the criteria by which gestures are judged to be language:whether they are used intentionally or are side effects of emotional states
whether they are flexible
whether they have an inherent meaning or whether the meaning is conveyed by social context
whether they are inherited or learned
whether they are used referentially
These criteria allow us to compare gestural communication between apes and humans. Referential gestures (or triadic gestures) begin to appear in prelinguistic children at around the age of 12 months. But even before this stage, children may demonstrate dyadic gestures, which direct attention to the actor. Chimpanzee infants begin to employ gestures around the age of 9 to 12.5 months, however, with few exceptions the majority of gestures used are dyadic. Attempts to teach apes to speak have not been very successful. Kanzi, a bonobo who spent the early years of his life observing his mother while she used a computerized keyboard, remains a rare success story. He learned many of the symbols (lexigrams) that his mother had not likely through exposure, which is similar to the way in which children learn to speak. They pick up on patterns from the behaviors of adults around them. His ability to understand English compares to a 2-year-old human child: He is able to combine two or three lexigrams or a lexigram and gesture, and order items (Arbib, Liebal, and Pika 2008: 1060).
His success aside, apes generally acquire symbols at a much slower rate when ... Read more »
Arbib, M., Liebal, K., & Pika, S. (2008) Primate Vocalization, Gesture, and the Evolution of Human Language. Current Anthropology, 49(6), 1053-1076. DOI: 10.1086/593015
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