The Royal College of Psychiatrists Podcast series has a new podcast featuring an interview with Dr Simon Moore, a clinical psychologist based in the Cardiff School of Dentistry who was involved in a longitudinal study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in which there was found to be a significant association between ‘excessive’ childhood consumptions of confectionary and conviction for violent crime by age 34 (available here). Moore suggested a number of mechanisms including impulsivity and delayed gratification that could account for this association.
On a slightly related note I also watched one of the recent Horizon series which is available here (see restrictions however) titled ‘Why do we talk?’. Although obviously not a podcast, I thought this was a very interesting episode which looked at the development of and origins of language. The episode features a researcher who has captured footage of his child learning to talk and is in the process of analysing a considerably large data-set. An example was given of the child gradually shaping the words ga ga into water. They also include footage of EEG activity in a baby while the mother speaks and there is also a brief interview with Noam Chomsky who proposed that language is innate. I was surprised to see footage of animals including dogs vocalising and to see that the position of the laryngeal apparatus was changed during the vocalisation process thus countering the prominent suggestion that humans are able to speak because their laryngeal apparatus is found inferior to the placement in other species. This apparently increases the range of movements that are available but increases the risk of choking (also the larynx is higher in human babies although it has been suggested that this doesn’t significantly reduce the range of available movements – also in the same article there is the suggestion that the larynx descended as far back as 600,000 years ago in Homo Heidelbergensis). The result of this evidence is that there is likely to be another explanation for humans having language and not chimpanzees for example. This means that the explanation is most likely to be found in the central nervous system. In this regards they also talk to some of the researchers and subjects who were involved in the research that led to the discovery of the FOXP2 gene which has been implicated in a number of conditions. Indeed only recently there was found to be a difference between the behaviours of the human and chimpanzee gene products at the cellular level. This has also been an area of interest in the study of Neanderthals where the version has been found to be the same as in humans and is intriguing in light of recent suggestions that Neanderthals and humans interbred although it is still unclear if there was any contribution to the modern human gene pool. There was then an interview with an autistic man with quite remarkable language abilities having learnt over 20 languages. During the interview he is observed learning a number of words from a new language (to him) and does this effortlessly and the researcher suggests that this in some way relates to an ability to master the rules of language although this is an entire topic in itself. There is also a fascinating look at a male finch that was reared separately from other members of its group and learnt to produce a rudimentary song. What was interesting here was that when the offspring was reared together but away from other members of the group that were able to produce full songs, they were able to improve their songs with time and were soon producing complex songs familiar to their species. This reminded me of one of Steve Pinker’s books on language in which he described how children were able to develop creole language without the intervention of adults. This seems to be consistent with Chomsky’s theory of an innate grammar. I thought this was an excellent episode which drew together many different lines of investigation to shed light on human language.
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