Channel 4 Learning

Brain Box
IQ and the pressure to perform
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EQ and the emotional curriculum
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IQ and the pressure to perform

Programme Outline


A pre-title sequence that questions if some parental aspirations for increasing children’s intellectual abilities are misguided.

Pressures on parents to accept that infant brains can be manipulated to stimulate exceptional intelligence, prompted by three key discoveries about early brain development:

1) Synapses:
Given the rapid development of connections between brain cells in infancy, might early neural connections be saved from decay?

2) Windows of Opportunity:
Might there be a ‘critical period’ for developing intelligence?

3) Enriched Environments:
Might young children’s brains grow larger in stimulating environments?

‘Hothousing’: Modern studies of brain development and intensive methods that claim to enhance children’s intellectual potential.

Synapses: An explanation of synaptic contacts between nerve cells in the brain.

Young parents, hoping to accelerate synaptic growth in their children, subscribe to a week’s intensive hothousing course.

Key periods for learning during child development. An example of linguistic capacity in infancy is explored.

Infant protégés perform set routines before proud parents. A psychiatrist speculates about musical stimulation of the brain. Commercial concerns confidently insist that, ‘Certain types of classical music have been proven to help babies brains develop faster’.

Advocates of intensive formal learning in early childhood claim environmental enrichment research identifies a 25% increase in brain capacity.

A psychologist reports experimental findings of significant synaptic growth ‘in the part of the [rodent] brain that is related to vision’.

Academic experts urge caution in the interpretation and application of brain research. ‘Hothousing’ claims are dismissed as both deceptive and ineffectual, if not positively counter-productive.

Claims that enriched environments benefit only younger children are shown to ignore that academic research has not been age-related.

Experts agree that critical periods apply for the acquisition of basic survival functions but advise that no evidence exists that higher-order processes are similarly dependent.

Equating intelligence with synaptic density is questioned.

Academics distrust hothousing and claims of commercial products. Evidence is cited for the regeneration of brain cells throughout life. Stimulating environments are acknowledged as good for ‘people, in general’. The scientist involved in the original ‘Mozart effect’ research disowns the popular market distortion of his work.

The debate concludes with critical evidence weighted against advocates of early formal learning, and with the assurance that:

‘The kind of environment that parents provide around the house is exactly what the child needs to develop normally. Learning things is something we’ll do throughout our lives. There is no need to cram flash cards [or] early reading instruction into the first three years of life. You’ll do more harm than good!’

— John T. Bruer, ‘The Myth of The First Three Years’