Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fake Crying And An Anecdote

Today started with a fascinating e-mail discussion with an overseas colleague about some interesting new results that were recently reported in developmental psychology. The report can be found here. It seems that babies as young as six months old can engage in deceptive behavior. The results seem to be quite solid. However, this is quite a surprise, as up until now it has been assumed that such deception did not appear until much later.

One thing that these results are likely to do is fire up the age old debate between the nativists and the non-nativists. My correspondent, who has nativist tendencies and is an expert in this field, suggested that it was improbable that a baby would have time to learn deceptive behaviour so fast, while also learning to grasp and all the other stuff. Thus, they suggested that this behavior must be genetically determined, or predisposed. Unfortunately, I have far fewer nativist tendencies, having read the first book of John Locke's, Essay Concerning Human Understanding at an impressionable age. In this, Locke soundly attacks the nativism of Descartes. I think that this should be a fun debate. It is one we have engaged in before.

I was particularly interested in the baby result, as it may provide an explanation of something which happened a while ago and which has puzzled me ever since. When I was a young parent, my daughter would wake up between 3 and 4am, hungry. As my milk never really came in (this is a joke!), I did 'output behavior', that is to say, diaper changing at these times. However, once something curious happened on one of these midnight exercises.

On one occasion, I had finished the 'clean up' phase and was about to start the loading of the child into a new diaper. As I was about to start, my daughter started to smile and make a noise that sounded like a laugh. The next thing I knew there was a large stream of pee filling up the new diaper , before it was even properly attached. Needless to say, I was not thrilled by this, but went back into clean up mode. When I got to the end, exactly the same thing happened a second time -- the smile, the giggle/laugh, the stream of pee into the brand new, as yet unattached diaper. At the time, I could have sworn that this was my little girl having fun at my expense.

Of course, I rejected this as preposterous, as a well educated philosopher, who was up to date on all the modern thinking. Now, in the light of these new results, I may have to revisit this conclusion.

I sent my developmental expert friend some questions about these events. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we operate in rather different time zones, I will have to wait until tomorrow, to get a response. However, this does really rather nicely illustrate the point that it is vitally important to keep up to date on research. It is a bad habit of some of my philosophical co-workers to simply ignore the evidence. This I believe to be a mistake.

The CP


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was hysterical! I have to say the truth is often more funny that what is made up. No July 4th? If Nov. 8th becomes THE day then one never knows - you may find a new date of Nov. 5th declared a new gunpowder, treason & plot day of our own - Watch Out!


6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some display tears of insincerity while others shed tears from the soul. Some individuals are cognizant as babies. They are what some may call an "old soul". Judging from your story, your daughter is an old soul.

6:51 PM  

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