06 September 2011

Brave New Baby: Genius Training for Infants

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We have heard of the "better baby" and even the "superbaby." But those approaches to creating the "brave new baby" have been around for a while, and yet, here we are. Still looking for workable ways of training smarter, more cognitively capable children.

University of London researchers have come up with a new approach, beginning with 11 month old infants:
The researchers trained 11-month-old infants to direct their gaze toward images they observed on a computer screen. For example, in one task, a butterfly flew only as long as the babies kept their eyes on it while other distracting elements appeared on screen. Infants visited the lab five times over the course of 15 days. Half of the 42 babies took part in training, while the other half watched TV. Each child was tested for cognitive abilities at the beginning and end of the study.

Trained infants rapidly improved their ability to focus their attention for longer periods and to shift their attention from one point to another. They also showed improvements in their ability to spot patterns and small but significant changes in their spontaneous looking behavior while playing with toys.

"Our results appeared to show an improved ability to alter the frequency of eye movements in response to context," Wass said. "In the real world, sometimes we want to be able to focus on one object of interest and ignore distractions, and sometimes we want to be able to shift the focus of our attention rapidly around a room -- for example, for language learning in social situations. This flexibility in the allocation of attention appeared to improve after training."

The fact that the babies' improvements in concentration transferred to a range of tasks supports the notion that there is greater plasticity in the unspecialized infant brain.

...The findings reported online on Sept. 1 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, are in contrast to reports in adults showing that training at one task generally doesn't translate into improved performance on other, substantially different tasks. _ScienceDaily

Study abstract from Science Direct

This type of research is likely to continue and intensify -- particularly in parts of the world with more authoritarian government control. It is likely to continue because it is quite probable that infant brains can eventually be functionally shaped to approximate a preconceived "ideal." Infant brains are highly plastic, and experience incredibly rapid shaping and re-shaping of local neuronal assemblies and white matter pathways.

Of course there are ethical approaches to this type of research, which should be freely carried out in more open societies. And of course individual parents are free to incorporate elements of such research into their child's overall, well-rounded upbringing. It is likely that there are easily devised "games" which the baby would enjoy playing, which could lead to a faster-thinking, more imaginative child. Perhaps even a child capable of multi-tasking in many ways.

But experimenting parents should beware. The super-baby which you raise may rapidly grow beyond your ability to comprehend and control. Children are essentially amoral creatures who are capable of incredible destruction if given too much power too soon, without superb training in executive function.

It is not wise to train a child in particular areas of genius without incorporating safeguards, executive function training, and ethical training into the overall program. This training should resemble an assortment of games and engaging interactional narratives to the very young child.

At the Al Fin Institute for the Brave New Baby, we are concerned about current trends toward a dumbed-down future. We will share the results of our research into brave new babies as it becomes available.

Taken from a recent posting on Al Fin the Next Level

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Blogger Miguel Antonio Cortés said...

"Premature optimization is the root of all evil" -- Donald Knuth

Sounds dangerous to me, what if we create overspecialized children?. We have enough problems with the education system as it is.

Tuesday, 06 September, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, it is very dangerous.

But it is also a very promising approach if done carefully and ethically.

The mainstream approach at this time is creating masses of helpless lifelong incompetents, not only unprepared for current employment, but also unprepared for the future evolution of employment.

Genes set the upper limit for cognitive ability, but environment has not been optimised to reach those limits for any human, so far. Not even close.

Eventually we will be altering cognition-affecting genes as well as environment, at critical stages of development.

Tuesday, 06 September, 2011  

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