Cover image for The scientist in the crib : minds, brains, and how children learn
The scientist in the crib : minds, brains, and how children learn
Gopnik, Alison.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow & Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 279 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF311 .G627 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This book combines two worlds -- children and science -- in an entirely unique way that yields exciting discoveries about both. The authors show that by the time children are three, they've solved problems that stumped Socrates with an agility computers still can't match. The Scientist in the Crib explains just how, and how much, babies and young children know and learn, and how much parents naturally teach them. In fact, The Scientist in the Crib argues that evolution designed us to both teach and learn. Nurture is our nature, and the drive to learn is our most important instinct.

The new science of children also reveals insights about our adult capacities, helping to solve some ancient questions: How do we know there really is a world out there? How do we know that other people have minds like ours? It turns out that we find solutions to these problems when we are very small. But these astonishing capabilities don't disappear in later life, as the authors show in their engaging discussion of humans' potential for learning. In fact, they argue that even very young children -- as well as adults use some of the same methods that allow scientists to learn so much about the world.

Written by three top scientists -- themselves parents -- who conducted much of the pioneering research in this field, The Scientist in the Crib is vivid, lucid, and often funny. Filled with surprises at every turn, it gives us a new view of the inner life of children and the mysteries of the mind.

Author Notes

Alison Gopnik, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and a leading cognitive scientist
Andrew N. Meltzoff, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington
Patricia K. Kuhl, Ph.D. is a professor of speech and hearing at the University of Washington

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gopnik and her coauthors are authorities on children's learning development and, in this book, at any rate, quite good writers. They present how children learn to understand and use language, control their emotions and arouse the emotions of others, and establish relationships. Babies are better at the elements and nuances of language than computers are, they show, for natural language far surpasses the artificial varieties. They demonstrate how science and messy reality intriguingly overlap in sections with such piquant titles as "The Three-Year-Old Opera: Love and Deception" and in such observations as "The babies' world isn't concrete any more than it's simple." They also willingly point out areas of development about which current understanding is fuzzy and more information is needed. Prospective and actual parents stand to learn much that may be helpful to them and their children from this lively book. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

Although Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl have each conducted groundbreaking research into the cognitive development of infants and its philosophical implications, this book evokes less excitement than their more straightforward research. With breathless enthusiasm, the authors review recent findings in developmental psychology and explain, in a tone somewhat self-consciously aimed at the "lay reader," their hopes that they will help answer fundamental philosophical questions. They focus on Kuhl's work in early infant phonetic recognition and language acquisition, Meltzoff's work on imitation in infants and Gopnik's exploration of philosophical development in infants, as well as other important work in the field. How do babies learn? they ask, answering that "they are born knowing a great deal, they learn more and we are designed to teach them." They also give refreshing emphasis to the evolutionary basis for infant-caregiver interactions. For example, they explain that "motherese"Äthe high-pitched, slightly louder than normal speech with elongated and articulated consonants and vowelsÄis not only preferred by babies but also optimally suited to their developing auditory systems. It's ironic, though, that these authors, who from the first pages decry ill-informed condescension to children, should be themselves so unthinkingly condescending in their tone and presentation: "children and scientists," they repeatedly aver, "are the best learners in the world." Agent, Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc.; 5-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Babies solve problems in exactly the same way that scientists workÄby repeatedly testing "hypotheses" against real occurrences, then modifying their initial theories to fit reality better. The three authorsÄall parents as well as noted specialists in infant developmentÄuse this idea to organize their summary of research on cognitive development in early childhood. Chapters cover the development of language, of understanding, and of minds and brains (the "software" and "hardware" of cognition). The authors do a good job of staying appropriately neutral on the big political issues of childcare and emphasize that this is not a book of child-rearing advice. It is instead a readable, concise summary of the recent explosion of research on early childhood development. Recommended for public and undergraduate libraries.ÄMary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Chapter 1 Ancient Questions and a Young Sciencep. 1
The Ancient Questionsp. 4
Baby 0.0p. 6
The Other Socratic Methodp. 10
The Great Chain of Knowingp. 11
Piaget and Vygotskyp. 14
The New View: The Computational Babyp. 20
Chapter 2 What Children Learn About Peoplep. 23
What Newborns Knowp. 25
The Really Eternal Trianglep. 32
Peace and Conflict Studiesp. 35
Changing Your Point of Viewp. 40
The Conversational Atticp. 42
Learning About "About"p. 44
The Three-Year-Old Opera: Love and Deceptionp. 47
Knowing You Didn't Know: Education and Memoryp. 51
How Do They Do It?p. 52
Mind-Blindnessp. 53
Becoming a Psychologistp. 55
When Little Brother Is Watchingp. 57
Chapter 3 What Children Learn About Thingsp. 60
What Newborns Knowp. 64
The Irresistible Allure of Stripesp. 64
The Importance of Movementp. 65
Seeing the World Through 3-D Glassesp. 67
The Tree in the Quad and the Keys in the Washclothp. 70
Making Things Happenp. 73
Kinds of Thingsp. 79
How Do They Do It?p. 83
World-Blindnessp. 84
The Explanatory Drivep. 85
Grown-ups as Teachersp. 88
Chapter 4 What Children Learn About Languagep. 92
The Sound Codep. 94
Making Meaningsp. 97
The Grammar We Don't Learn in Schoolp. 99
What Newborns Knowp. 102
Taking Care of the Sounds: Becoming a Language-Specific Listenerp. 106
The Tower of Babblep. 110
The First Wordsp. 112
Putting It Togetherp. 117
How Do They Do It?p. 120
Word-Blindness: Dyslexia and Dysphasiap. 120
Learning Soundsp. 122
Learning How to Meanp. 125
"Motherese"p. 128
Chapter 5 What Scientists Have Learned About Children's Mindsp. 133
Evolution's Programsp. 134
The Star Trek Archaeologistsp. 139
Foundationsp. 143
Learningp. 147
The Developmental View: Sailing in Ulysses' Boatp. 149
Big Babiesp. 153
The Scientist as Child: The Theory Theoryp. 155
Explanation as Orgasmp. 162
Other Peoplep. 164
Nurture as Naturep. 165
The Klingons and the Vulcansp. 170
Sailing Togetherp. 172
Chapter 6 What Scientists Have Learned About Children's Brainsp. 174
The Adult Brainp. 175
How Brains Get Builtp. 180
Wiring the Brain: Talk to Mep. 183
Synaptic Pruning: When a Loss Is a Gainp. 186
Are There Critical Periods?p. 189
The Social Brainp. 194
The Brain in the Boatp. 195
Chapter 7 Trailing Clouds of Gloryp. 198
What Is to Be Done?p. 198
The Cloudsp. 206
Notesp. 213
Referencesp. 227
Indexp. 265