Book Review: The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn

Another book about babies. This one is thankfully free of gory details. Instead The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, & Patricia K. Kuhl examines developmental psychology in children. It turns out that babies are a lot like scientists in the ways they interact with their new world and test assumptions. Or maybe scientists are like babies because it is in our earliest years that we first develop our capacity for learning.

The authors examine how babies recognize other people and themselves, differentiate objects, and develop language. They also have instinctive means to train adults and older children to help in their development. This book is a lot of fun and a fascinating read.

Favorite Passages:

It may be some comfort to know that these toddlers don’t really want to drive us crazy, they just want to understand how we work. The tears that follow the blowup at the end of a terrible-twos confrontation are genuine. The terrible twos reflects a genuine clash between children’s need to understand other people and their need to live happily with them. Experimenting with conflict may be necessary if you want to understand what people will do, but it’s also dangerous. The terrible twos show how powerful and deep-seated the learning drive is in these young children. With these two-year olds, as with scientists, finding the truth is more than a profession — it’s a passion. And, as with scientists, that passion may sometimes make them sacrifice domestic happiness. – p. 38.

The two most successful examples of human learning turn out to be quite similar. Children and scientists are the best learners in the world, and they both operate in very similar, even identical ways, ways that are unlike even our best computers. They never start from scratch; instead, they modify and change what they already know to gain new knowledge. But they are also never permanently dogmatic — the things they know (or think they know) are always open to further revision.

While the idea that scientists are like children might seem surprising at first, it helps make sense of some otherwise puzzling facts. Scientists, after all, have the same brains as the rest of us. And science is convincing because, at some level, all of us can recognize the value of explaining what goes on around us and predicting what will happen in the future. … Why would we have such powerful learning abilities if we never even used them back in the Pleistocene? …

Our answer is that these abilities evolved for the use of babies and young children. – p. 156-7

BrainConnection by Anne Pycha

NEA by
Marcia D’Arcangelo and Andrew Meltzoff.
Science Blog

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn

  1. Oh, please, someone who has the original of this book, could you copy a part from the book beginning with page 149 for me? (The original title of the chapter is probably “Sailing in Ulysses’ Boat”.) I have the “very motivating task” to translate it back to English from the Hungarian translation, and I just don’t feel like it… it’s utterly urgent for me.

    Thank you!


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