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Sunday, December 26, 2010


The influential early behaviourist John B. Watson once proclaimed: ‘Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocation, and race of his ancestors’ (1924, p. 82). But are people really empty vessels to be filled up or shaped by their environments? People often think of infants as helpless and malleable. Clearly, in some quite fundamental respects, they are dependent upon others. They are unable to meet their own physical needs (feeding, cleansing, finding shelter) or to move around or engage in discussion. Observations such as these have led to a traditional belief that the child is shaped by experience. The strongest expressions of this assumption have been provided by behaviouristic psychologists, like Watson, who assert that the child is the product of its reinforcement history. However, more recent research by developmental psychologists has radically altered our understanding, and the traditional notion of babies as empty vessels waiting to be filled by experience has now been abandoned. In this section, we will examine an array of evidence pointing to the remarkable complexity and competencies of the normal human infant.

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