CAE Reading and Use of English Part 6
You are going to read four reviews on a popular book on upbringing. For questions 37-40, choose from the reviews A-D. The extracts may be chosen more than once.
Learning how children think
Four reviewers comment on scientist Annie Barnes’ book titled Learning how children think.
In her latest book, Annie Barnes covers all of the theories related to the development of human consciousness and concludes that the minds of babies have been significantly underrated. She suggests that, far from being simple, babies’ brains have a special kind of consciousness; they have an innate ability to develop theories about how the world works. She claims a baby’s mind can evaluate theories about everyday happenings and not just simply live through them. One of the book’s most intriguing suggestions is that, while it’s important for adults to be able to imagine unfulfilled or potential outcomes in different situations, it is actually in such so-called ‘thought experiments’ that babies excel.
Barnes’ clear and readable style is aimed at the general reader and she makes a useful comparison to help understand the difference between the consciousness of a baby and that of an adult: the lantern and the spotlight. A baby has a ‘lantern’ consciousness which is wider and more diffuse than an adult’s; this is because it is set to absorb as much as possible from new experiences. Conversely, adults learn to ‘spot’, or focus, in order to function efficiently in the world. Barnes’ descriptions of her working life hint at labs crammed with infants pulling levers and pushing buttons while white-coated scientists follow their eye movements and scan their brains. Yet she also thinks of babies as scientists; she describes them as ‘learning machines’, constantly experimenting on the world and analysing their results with enthusiasm. The basis of child learning seems to be no different from the more conscious and deliberate approach of adults, and this well-informed book provides detailed examples.
One fascinating chapter in Barnes’ book concerns morality. Children seem to have an acute sense of fairness; they know how others feel and can act on that knowledge. In one experiment concerning food described in the book, babies were left with researchers who indicated clearly that they loved the vegetable broccoli but hated crackers. Whatever their own preferences, the toddlers gave the broccoli lovers their ‘preferred’ food rather than the crackers. It seems we are born with a sense of otherness, which experience later knocks out of us; this is something most parents of teenagers are well aware of. One issue Barnes could have addressed is the potential downside to the willingness of young minds to imagine and believe. She only sees this as an advantage. If people in authority say fire hurts, the child believes. However, this does not negate Barnes’ other findings. Her aim is to describe how infant mentality develops and what we can learn from it; this she does, and in analysing how a child’s mind grows, she provides insights into the human mind in general.
Barnes clearly enjoys being around small children and is sympathetic to the deeper philosophical implications of their way of thinking. Her book is absorbing and educative, despite sometimes feeling as if she is spending too much time simply confirming what parents and preschool teachers have long known. There is a well-founded fear that developmental psychologists risk ‘reading-in’, that is, thinking that small children interpret the world intentionally and consciously, as adults do. The experiments reported by Barnes are generally well-designed and sensitive to the danger of misinterpretation. Nevertheless, she sometimes seems to go too far, as when claiming that babies recognise the actions they copy and reproduce. Barnes helpfully says children are like the research and development department of a company, what she means is that they are creative and innovative, though not always correct. She suggests that adults are more like the production and marketing section, focusing on a project and following it through to its logical conclusion. It’s a neat comparison in what is an in-depth volume.
37 has a different view to Reviewer A regarding Barnes’ claims about how well babies interpret the world?
38 shares Reviewer D’s concern about some rather obvious conclusions drawn by psychologists?
39 has a similar opinion to Reviewer В about the way the book compares the baby and adult mind?
40 has a different view to the others about whether the book is comprehensive enough?