Ann Barnet:
THE YOUNGEST MINDS (SImon & Schuster, 1998)

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

The American pediatrist Ann Barnet explains how the brain takes shape, according to modern neurobiological theories. It emphasizes that, at birth, growth (synapse creation) is mainly in the cortex.
Besides being very informative, the book applies the ideas of Darwinian development of the brain to the psychology of children. For example, it points out that challenging environments (eg toys, people, environments) stimulate brain growth.
Then the book does the same with language, using Chomsky's theories. The brain is primed for language development, grammatical principles are innate and universal. Our language ability depends not only on symbolic utterance, but also on our ability to make use of symbolic utterance, to connect the idea with some action. This happens since birth, as linguistic and nonlinguistic information (eg visual) are tied from the beginning.
As a matter of fact, in a baby, comprehension is ahead of utterance.
An intriguing feature of language is that it introduces an asymmetry in the brain. The left emishere specializes in language. This is unusual as all other sensory information (including sound, actually) are processed by both emispheres. Lateralization of language skills begins at birth, but the right emisphere plays a key role throughout childhood (in women, it continues playing a role in adulthood).
Barnet then delves into the neuroanatomy of emotions and maps them to the emotional needs of the child.
Finally, Barnet deals with the neural basis of empathy and morality. Throughout the book, her preoccupation is with how human relationships shape the child's mind. Her conclusion is that "the development of a child's intellect is inseparable from her emotional and moral development".

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