Friday, August 27, 2010

The nurturing mind in evolution

Mary Loftus writes in Emory Magazine:

Watch a toddler—any toddler, anywhere in the world—struggle to rise up from crawling, balance unsteadily on two feet, and take a few wobbly steps, and you can see the history of natural selection and human evolution played out in microcosm. And, if you watch the parent waiting to catch the child, you begin also to understand the impact of social attachment—also known as love, says Emory anthropologist Melvin Konner.

In his latest book, “The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind,” Konner provides a Darwinian interpretation of a child’s development from infancy to adolescence—a journey rooted in genetically inherited traits and brain development, yet deeply influenced by emotions and social interactions.

The 900-page book was a long time in the making. “I thought it would take three years; it took three decades,” Konner says. “During that time, advances in the fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, behavior genetics, and brain development greatly enhanced our understanding of childhood.”

Advances in brain imaging allow for important, real-time insights into the working of the child and adolescent’s cognitive processes and mental life. “Before we could look at brains only after death, or very crudely during life, supplement those meager findings with evidence from the study of other animals, and then guess how the brain generates its major product—behavior,” Konner says. “Now we can watch brain circuits in action, down to the level of millimeters, while mental processes are going on.”

All of this research suggests that the evolution of intelligence and mind is driven not just by primal needs such as making tools and remembering food locations, he says, but by the vital need to negotiate emotions and relationships.

Read the whole article.

Top photo credit:

The fruits of play
The biology of shared laughter

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