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Bright and early

October 7th, 2012, 8:00am by Sam Wang


And now for something rather different: neuroscience and child development. My co-author Sandra Aamodt and I write in today’s New York Post about infancy and early-childhood programs. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chancellor Dennis Walcott have announced significant expansions of these programs for fall 2013. Such programs pay for themselves at least seven times over by aiding critical early-life steps in brain development. The outcomes for “graduates”  include more education, lower risk of delinquency and crime, and higher earnings.

To learn more, our book Welcome To Your Child’s Brain is here.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • wheelers cat

    I have long been a fan of the Heckman Equation.
    I like the maths, and the fact that Heckman is an economist.

  • Dave Kliman

    If we’re going to talk about infants, then I feel it’s my duty to paste this link: http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ijo2012132a.html
    the headline being: “Infant antibiotic exposures and early-life body mass.”

    the upshot is infant antibiotics linked with heavier weight. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/weight-implications-for-infant-antibiotics/

  • Mortimer

    You just made a sale!

    Would you calm a hyperanxious parent’s nerves? My 5 wk old is 60th pct for height and weight, but 25th pct for head circumference. Is she doomed?

    • Sam Wang

      No. Head size is not predictive of future mental function, generally speaking.

      25th percentile means 25% of babies have smaller heads. I am sure you can think of small-headed people who are smart, and large-headed people who are not.

      In infants, there is a weak association between large heads and neurodevelopmental problems. You don’t need to worry about that.

    • Mortimer

      Thanks. That’s what my MPH wife and pubmed searches have been telling me. It’s still comforting to hear it straight from an expert.

    • Amitabh Lath

      Your baby is fine. And beautiful. Congratulations.

      You need sleep.
      Sleep when the baby sleeps.

      Let other people wash dishes/clean house/go shopping/cooking.

      Don’t read the web about baby stuff. There are religious wars going on out there about breast/bottle feeding, sleep-training vs. co-sleeping, etc etc etc. Stay away from that.

      Confine you web surfing to the PEC.

    • Sam Wang

      Now, see, this is good advice.

      The main theme of our book is: don’t worry, a baby’s brain basically grows itself. Which is true.

      Good luck!

    • Matt McIrvin

      The medical examination of fetuses and babies seems expressly designed to make new parents sick with worry.

      Our kid had an unusually long and narrow skull in utero, which was supposedly linked to a rare disorder in which the skull sutures close prematurely, necessitating a childhood of dozens of head surgeries. (I looked it up: the pictures didn’t look like our ultrasounds at all. But the standard of diagnosis is the standard of diagnosis.)

      Of course there was no sign of that whatsoever in the next ultrasound. But then they found a calcified spot in her heart, which, while harmless, was supposedly weakly correlated with Down syndrome. I talked to a biologist parent who’d gotten the same warning for his kid: turns out that was based on a single small-sample-size study, unsupported by further research as far as I know.

      She was born normal and healthy. But she’s kind of short. 20th percentile, I think. Fortunately nobody regards this as a big deal.

  • Amy Tiemann

    Sam, I hope you’ll listen to This American Life, “Back to School” episode with Paul Tough, talking about his new book “How Children Succeed.” Really interesting work on skills other than traditional brainpower. For very young kids, teaching attachment and emotional intelligence to their parents is one good way to strengthen relationships that will last a lifetime.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/474/back-to-school

    • wheelers cat

      I actually think nutrition and healthcare are rather more important.

    • THE

      One hears persistent stories that delayed gratification is of comparable importance to IQ.

    • Sam Wang

      Possibly greater, actually. The marshmallow-test cohort has been followed over time. The ability of a four-year-old to restrain a marshmallow-eating impulse is more predictive than IQ of a number of later life outcomes, including SAT score, regard by peers, and so on. If I recall correctly, this work was done by Duckworth and Seligman. See my book.

  • Amitabh Lath

    I bought Welcome To Your Child’s Brain a few weeks ago. Like all the good science books, as you learn new things, you find new questions.

    I hope I can get Sam to autograph my copy.

    Sam, where do you land on the issue of whether the brain is a mechanism or something more ineffable?

    Roger Penrose the mathematician wrote a book (The Emperor’s New Mind) about the brain being in a state of quantum entanglement (!). Bigger and bigger computers will still be overgrown adding machines.

    Claude Shannon was of the opinion that the brain is a mechanism. I recall a quote from him: “Of course machines can think. I’m a machine, and I can think”. Given enough neurons, at some point Skynet becomes self-aware.

    I understand this is like asking Ben Franklin about the Higgs boson, but do you have an opinion?

  • Vicki Vance

    What about autism, Sam? What do you think goes wrong?

  • LondonYoung

    “Such programs pay for themselves at least seven times over by aiding critical early-life steps in brain development.” Interestingly specific given the data available, the long time scales involved (dollars today vs. 50-year horizon?), all the tangled factors of SES constructs – and the fact that our theories on the Flynn effect still leave a lot to be desired … Maybe “it seems a great bet that these investments will pay for themselves” could have done it?

    • Sam Wang

      The range of multipliers is actually 7 to 20. Seven is a conservative estimate. I can link the paper. There’s not really any question that this stuff pays off. One can ask whether it is a proper role of government to create that opportunity. My view is yes.

      Regarding the Flynn effect, one interesting aspect of it is that in some countries, it is concentrated in the lower half of children, suggesting the possibility that one cause is the removal of deprivation. So much to say on this subject.

  • JaredL

    Interesting stuff, definitely seems like a good investment. I’m curious how it works in practice. Is it part of a day care? Do parents just drop their infants and toddlers off for this or are they working with the, uh, instructors as well?

    This is a good reminder to pick up your books. I didn’t discover that I have ADHD until the age of 28. Since then I have been quite interested in neuroscience and I think I’ll find both interesting even though I don’t have children.

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