“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming buzzing confusion”- William James
The Early Learning Project at UNSW is starting a blog! My students and I want to share our take on developmental science with you. The blog will be a mixture of us telling you about research is going on in our lab, telling you about cool research that is coming out of other labs, and keeping science journalists in check by telling you about developmental science that gets a lot of media attention, but is perhaps misinterpreted.
We decided to call our blog "Blooming Buzzing Confusion" out of respect for the father of psychology, William James. James is famous for a lot of things but one of his most quoted writings is his suggestion that infants' impression of the world is "one great blooming, buzzing confusion" (Principles of Psychology 1890). This idea of the overwhelmed infant, who had little capacity to make sense of the world around them prevailed for much of the 20th century but in recent times there has been somewhat of a shift in how we think about the cognitive capacities of young infants.
Changes in methodology, particularly the development of habituation/dishabituation paradigms which rely on infant looking times, have opened up the range of cognitive capacities and social understanding that can be tested in young infants and have revealed remarkably sophisticated capacities... or have they.
In the last 10 years, researchers have published data suggesting that infants can count, are capable of moral reasoning, have theory of mind, and can make social evaluations of others behaviour. These conclusions largely come from studies in which infants look for longer at events that the researchers expect to be surprising to them (i.e. 1+ 1= 1), if they have an understanding of numerosity, for example. The problem is that many of these violation of expectation effects can be more parsimoniously explained with reference to simple perceptual phenomenon or associative learning.
The field of developmental psychology is currently wrestling with whether infants are born with remarkable capacities to understand the world or whether, like James said many years ago, it is all a blooming, buzzing, confusion. In all likelihood, it is a bit of both. There is no doubt that infants are born with remarkable capacities to learn about how the world works, and my students and I are excited to share the latest discoveries with you.
I am the Director of the Early Learning Project at UNSW. My research interests focus on learning, memory and emotion understanding development in infancy and early childhood
I am currently studying for my undergraduate Psychology degree at Cardiff University in the UK. I am working as a Research Assistant in the Early Learning Project as part of our placement program this year.
I have just finished my thesis for my honuors degree. My research focused on future thinking ability in preschoolers.