- Paperback: 544 pages
- Publisher: Bantam (3 October 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553378252
- ISBN-13: 978-0553378252
- Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3.8 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,02,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life Paperback – 3 Oct 2000
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"With impressive depth and clarity, Eliot...offers a comprehensive overview of current scientific knowledge about infant and early childhood brain development...Popular science at its best."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review
From the Inside Flap
As a research neuroscientist, Lise Eliot has made the study of the human brain her life's work. But it wasn't until she was pregnant with her first child that she became intrigued with the study of brain development. She wanted to know precisely how the baby's brain is formed, and when and how each sense, skill, and cognitive ability is developed. And just as important, she was interested in finding out how her role as a nurturer can affect this complex process. How much of her baby's development is genetically ordained--and how much is determined by environment? Is there anything parents can do to make their babies' brains work better--to help them become smarter, happier people? Drawing upon the exploding research in this field as well as the stories of real children, What's Going On in There? is a lively and thought-provoking book that charts the brain's development from conception through the critical first five years. In examining the many factors that play crucial roles in that process, What's Going On in There? explores the evolution of the senses, motor skills, social and emotional behaviors, and mental functions such as attention, language, memory, reasoning, and intelligence. This remarkable book also discusses:
how a baby's brain is "assembled" from scratch
the critical prenatal factors that shapebrain development
how the birthing process itself affects the brain
which forms of stimulation are most effective at promoting cognitive development
how boys' and girls' brains develop differently
how nutrition, stress, and other physical and social factors can permanently affect a child's brain
Brilliantly blending cutting-edge science with a mother's wisdom and insight, What's Going On in There? is an invaluable contribution to the nature versus nurture debate. Children's development is determined both by the genes they are born with and the richness of their early environment. This timely and important book shows parents the innumerable ways in which they can actually help their children grow better brains.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Also, kudos to the author and editor: I haven't read such a succinctly written and yet enjoyably descriptive book like this (other genres included) in quite a while.
I got much more than I bargained for. It is a book by an evolutionary biologist about how children form. It is from her perspective as a parent. She interprets observations about her own children in light of her lab experience and reading.
She talks in general about the evolution of the nervous system throughout the history of life, coming really quickly to the primates, giving a brief summary of the seven million years since we parted from our primate ancestors. We still have a lot in common with them, to which she stresses throughout the book. We have likewise changed quite a bit. In particular, our brains are four times the weight of those of our nearest relatives, chimpanzees. That additional functionality has gone mostly into the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain which is far more developed in humans than every other animal.
An infant is born with his brain far from fully formed. There are more neurons there than will ever be used, but the connections among them are still few and unformed. The first couple of years of life are dedicated to making connections that will be needed and eliminating neurons that are not.
What is needed of course depends on the child's environment. With regard to language, neural paths needed to recognize and produce the ambient language are strengthened; unused sounds are not supported. A child with obvious deficiencies such as eyes or ears that don't work will not need the corresponding parts of the brain; the neurons that would be dedicated to seeing or hearing are eliminated. The same is true, unfortunately, for certain social genes. The child learns to be social by socializing, and the corresponding behavioral parts of our brains develop as they do.
Post-natal wiring is an economical way of allowing a highly evolved animal to emerge from the birth canal in a small package. All the parts are there, but it is not fully assembled. The multi-year self-assembly process is both genetic – prewired – and epigenetic, depending on the environment in which the child finds himself.
One of the most interesting chapters deals with adverse impacts on the foetus during pregnancy. Substance abuse, the wrong pills, unfortunate infections, everything that can affect the growing baby. There are a vast amount of old wives tales on the subject, and it is a delight to find the relevant data on most conceivable conditions in one place from an authoritative source.
She hardly addresses abnormalities due to faulty sperm, citing only lead exposure. The more obvious risks on the father's side have to do with not getting pregnant in the first place. It only makes sense that what the mother does before and during pregnancy has a greater effect than what the father may have done beforehand. Whichever gamite may have been responsible, most nonviable fetuses are spontaneously aborted in early pregnancy.
She goes into some length about the malformation of the neural tube which results in anencephala – the lack of a brain – and spina bifida. There are quite specific measures to take against the occurance of these deformities.
With regard to language learning, my topic of interest, the brain is wired to acquire language on a prescribed schedule. She credits Jean Piaget with mapping the developmental calendar of a newborn, and emphasizes that every infant of virtually every race follows pretty much same sequence of developmental steps. The first things that sound like words may appear shortly before a year, and by the age of 2 ½ they are speaking in sentences. These are sentences that they earnestly understand, whether or not the parents do as well. They are working hard to mimic what they hear. They love to make sound, and they love to repeat sentences, very consciously practicing to get the sound right.
I highly recommend this book to any parent or parent-to-be. It is full of practical advice on how to maximize your baby's intelligence and sociability. She repeats the conventional wisdom in support of breast feeding, and goes on at length about the benefits of physical contact, and especially massage. My toddler son loves it, I am happy to say, and it is my conviction that early and frequent interaction with me is an important way to form his conception of himself as a man and future husband and father.
A five-star effort throughout. Easy to read and valuable at every step.
Critique/How to Read the Book
Because of the dense material covered in Eliot's book , it is difficult to turn to a page you want to learn about at random. Also, the lay out of the book being that it is organized into chapters on topics rather than in chapters by chronological age makes it challenging to turn to the sections for a 3 year old if let's say you just bought the book when your child was 3-4 years old. To overcome these, I suggest that if you are reading this book as a resourceful guide on what to expect and how to raise your infant, it is best to read this ahead of time and highlight the parts you think are important. In this way, you can easily refer back to the sections you thought were helpful. Additionally, it is important to note that the chapters are mostly organized in chronological order from the fetus stage, early infant, then on to its toddler and pre-school years. Therefore, you can skim through the end of a chapter in an area of interest if you already have a child who is in his/her toddler years.
First Few Chapters
The first few chapters focus on the basics of the brain in an evolutionary and anatomical sense. It discusses the egg's fertilization, passage through the fallopian tube, and implantation in the uterus, as well as briefly discusses the cellular growth in the cerebral cortex, "increasingly spiky or complex" EEGs, and of course the argument of nature versus nurture.
An entire 55 pages are devoted to explaining the "Prenatal Influences on the Brain." A section of this discusses how the nicotine and carbon monoxide found in cigarettes adversely affects the fetus. They "decrease the amount of oxygen available to the fetus, and less oxygen means slower growth of all bodily organs." The effects of maternal stress are fully explained by first providing in depth information on the how the fight-or-flight response works. There is even a table at the end of the chapter summarizing the prenatal factors (toxins, radiation, other chemicals, etc.) that are harmful, non-conclusive, and recommendations for how to avoid the harmful factors.
Importance of Being Held
One of the most well explained and interesting parts of the book are the chapters, "The Importance of Touch" and "Why Babies Love to Be Bounced." Eliot describes how the vestibular system develops from a fetus to an infant using plenty of pictures and diagrams first, which then helps her describe specific studies on how cuddling and holding a baby lead to a behavior that is less irritable as children. There are many benefits to vestibular stimulation at a young age including "newborns cry less when they are being rocked, carried, jiggled, or suddenly changed in position, all actions that activate the vestibular system;" overall behavioral state in "decreasing the baby's level of arousal;" and pre-term babies being "less irritable, move less jerkily, and sleep more."
Even if you are only interested in how the visual, gustatory, vestibular, and auditory systems work in humans, you will receive an abundant amount of information regarding these systems because the chapters first discuss the basics of how each develops, works together, and the components involved in each. Eliot does an excellent job in describing the beauty of each part while providing useful information on topics such as how hearing improves (in terms of frequency sensitivity, sound localization, threshold and the ability to discriminate sounds in a noisy background), obligatory looking (where babies fixate on an object for minutes at a time), binocularity and depth perception, and the function of prenatal taste ability.
What makes this book even more interesting is that it covers many of the myths or statements you hear people making regularly. Eliot explains how being exposed to a variety of tastes at a young age influences later preferences making the adults more likely to try and also like non-novel foods. She shows that acquired taste has a large role in this process rather than genes. "What's Going on in There?" also explains how infant walkers don't really help infants walk mainly because of its limiting effect on an infant's ability to explore the world on its own, stimulating various parts of his/her brain. She states, "They can explore and satisfy their curiosity without developing their balance or locomotor skills, so these abilities come more slowly."
The last few chapters provide the most information in terms of practical use that parents can utilize to encourage a better lifestyle, memory, and social emotional growth. Even though Eliot describes countless ways of improving these based on previous research conducted, she states an important view to keep in mind. "It is the model we set, rather than the specific teaching we attempt, that is going to have the biggest impact on a child's cognitive abilities and success in life."
In conclusion "What's Going in There?" by Lise Eliot, provides wonderful explanations as to how the brain develops from a fetus through age 5. It provides a myriad of useful information and debunks I would greatly recommend this book to one simply wanting to learn more about the details of how the brain is formed and how much plasticity there is at an early age. I would also recommend this great book to mothers-to-be or one who already have an infant to use as a resource to refer to. It is detailed enough to not only know what is going on in the brain, but also understand the processes taking place! What you do with these facts from diagrams or previous studies is up to you though since Eliot focuses more on the actual material rather than how to implement this knowledge into practical use- which may be a challenge if you do not have a very good science background but can be great for those who already know some in this area to form your own ideas.