Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Thoughts on Wang & Aamodt's Welcome to Your Child's Brain

I found this book on child brain development a good read. It combines simple anecdotes about child development with hardcore neuroscience concepts. For instance, it talks about practical things such as playing classical music to children or not exposing them to loud noises as a good thing for their development. At the same time it discusses about a lot of the biochemical machinery underlying this advice -- e.g. relating the level of various stress hormones to play and epigenetic changes in mice. There is also a very nice discussion of a lot of the statistical issues in children's development. In particular, the way that many findings can be subtly biased -- for instance those related to the attributes of the firstborn. Overall I found this a compelling book that is easy to read and also teaches you a lot about real neuroscience.

Some particular bits that are worth commenting on more:


There is an interesting discussion of the biochemical mechanisms behind stress response contrasting the seconds-level response for adrenaline with the minutes-level response for the corticosteroids. There is also an interesting discussion about the role of play in children's brains pointing out, for instance, that while at play adrenaline increases but cortisol does not, while in a legitimately stressful experiences both of these important chemicals increase.

There was also a discussion of how stress in young mice leads to epigenetic changes, which are then permanent and can potentially affect the offspring of these animals.


There was a discussion of the high incidence of autism and the blooming rates of this disease relating it to high heritability and also to changes in diagnostic issues. (There's an interesting interplay of autism diagnoses relative to dyslexia .) The heritability of autism is approximately 40% between siblings. In relation to this, there are different strategies of learning written language between English and Chinese. Applying some of these different strategies might be an effective way of dealing with a person who is autistic in one language.

- The book also points out that there is a demonstrable link between the playing of certain violent video games and various recognition abilities. It highlights the bad impact of head injuries during play on brain development. Even one single concussion can potentially increase risk for disease later in life.


The book has an interesting discussion of some of the attempts to measure intelligence and to improve it through various activities. It turns out that one of the best things that one can do is to simply learn how to concentrate and not be distracted. Another interesting anecdote related to this is how classical music may improve a child's intelligence. It has been demonstrated that listening to Mozart can actually improve ones performance on an intelligence test by up to nine points and building on this there has been a lot of popular interest -- including a governor of a southern state sending CDs of classical music to all newborn babies. The book hypothesizes that music brings together various areas of the brain allowing us to organize information that we could not do in isolation. Also our musical ability is related to a particular area of the brain called the gyrus, which is demonstrably larger in musical people.

- A very interesting discussion of the ability of children to reckon approximately with small numbers and how it is actually higher around two and then decreases at three years of age.

- It's best for development for children to be exposed to bright light at least once a day while they're focusing far away.


The book has an interesting discussion of first order effects in relation to personality, arguing that most of these supposed differences are actually related to statistical artifacts. One of the artifacts has to do with the idea that firstborn children disproportionately tend to occur in smaller and richer families and one has to subtract out this effect. Another related statistical discussion was a critique of epidemiological findings pointing out issues with reverse causation -- for example, how do we know that A causes B vs. B causes A. In addition, there's causation by a third factor (could A and B actually be caused by C) and how this all relates to many different risk factors sometimes traveling together in a pack.


There's a need to pair a bitter taste with a sweet one.

Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College

by Sam Wang, Sandra Aamodt


My tag: childbrain0mg

Did a review (http://www.amazon.com/review/R18JX0LZZM16OQ)