Right and wrong ways to grow

Patterns of Artistic Development in Children - Antisocial Behaviour By Young People - The Cradle of Knowledge
May 19, 2000

Do not be put off by the cover of The Cradle of Knowledge , for inside is probably one of the most accessible books on the development of perception I have read for a long while. Within the covers of a single book, arguments for and against constructivist views of perceptual development are presented, as well as discussions of the relationship between the perceptual abilities of infants and their cognitive, social and motor development.

Although, in general, chapter one focuses on two different views of perceptual development - constructivist versus ecological - the reader is also guided through a number of issues that have to be addressed and resolved if there is ever to be a unified theory of perceptual development.For example, in order to understand how we perceive it is important to take into account the environment in which we perceive and the limitations of the human visual system. The biological aspects are discussed more fully in the second chapter, where there is a clear and comprehensive description of the physiological and sensory aspects of perceptual development. Behavioural and physiological techniques are illustrated by example. The reader is told of non-invasive physiological experiments (VEP - visual evoked potentials), which record the level of electrical activity in the visual cortex by means of electrodes placed on the scalp. Such techniques have proved useful in determining that infants can discriminate particular stimuli at very early ages. These first two chapters are a must for anyone studying or refreshing themselves on the field of perceptual development.

The following seven chapters deal with a variety of particular topics within the field of perception and are not restricted simply to visual perception. Thus, even though the usual topics such as object perception and pattern perception are given a thorough airing, other chapters focus on subjects such as intermodal and auditory perception.

Although Philip Kellman and Martha Arterberry provide the reader with a current review of the relevant literature, it was the final chapters on the social and cognitive foundations of development that I found particularly interesting. It is here that the authors demonstrate that conducting perceptually based studies with young infants aids our understanding of other aspects of development. For example, some perceptual tasks in early infancy have demonstrated that the basis for the development of categorisation and later conceptual processing may in fact be perceptual knowledge.

As the authors note, perceptual knowledge precedes many other kinds of knowledge in early development. They have shown that with advances in experimental techniques used with young infants and children it is now possible to find out more about the sensory and perceptual experiences of very young humans. I would thoroughly recommend this book to students who want a general overview of the field of perceptual development.

In Patterns of Artistic Development in Children , Constance Milbrath sets out an intriguing theory of how the skills of artistically talented children develop over time. This is accomplished by comparing the development of artistically talented populations with that of less talented ones. It is usually the case that artistic development is studied by employing laboratory experiments that make use of life models. By contrast, the present series of experiments is based on observing both talented and less talented children during the course of their spontaneous artwork.

Milbrath points out that experiments that rely on children drawing from life models are not what children do when drawing in everyday life. Rather,children appear to draw using representations that have been stored in memory. It has been argued that such representations are based on perceptual information picked up over time, as well as on their conceptual understanding of the nature of the world. Advancing this theme, Milbrath puts forward two groups of hypotheses concerning the development of children's drawing. The first concerns conceptual development, where the traditional belief that variance in the rate of artistic development is a function of individual differences is tested. The second set of hypotheses focuses on figurative development, which has a completely different set of predictions. Artistically talented children are assumed to have heightened visual perceptual abilities. It is argued that it is because of this "superior" perceptual system that the developmental paths of artistically talented and non-artistically talented children differ. The book is divided into two unequal parts. In the first part, the focus is on the representation of form and space, and in the second part on how a picture is composed from this representation. The differences between the artistically talented children and the less artistically talented children are strikingly apparent in the illustrations of human figures. Talented children are able to use perspective in their artwork from a remarkably young age. By contrast, perspective taking in drawing develops much later in less artistically talented children.

Milbrath is challenging the view that artistically talented children merely develop the same perceptual and motor skills as other children further and faster. Rather, she investigates the perceptual, conceptual and figurative skills that enable some children to reach at a very early age levels of artistic ability that other children can apparently never attain. Less talented children's ability mentally to represent an artistic idea exceeds the drawing procedures in their drawing repertoire since mental representations are conceptually biased and do not mirror the visual properties of represented objects. Conversely, with talented children they appear to develop the ability to represent visual space before conceptual representations develop to distort this. This is particularly striking in the case of autistic savants, children with autism who can draw strikingly realistic pictures at a very early age. Such children can typically use appropriate perspective and shading at ages as young as six, when their intellectual abilities are relatively limited. But as they make intellectual gains, their drawings tend to become more conceptual and less visually realistic. One suggestion (not made by Milbrath) is that comparisons can be made to artistically talented autistic children and primitive cave art. Cave artwork displays a similar type of layering to that found in the drawings of autistic savants. It has been argued that the conceptual abilities of adult cavemen resembled that of young children in the modern world.

This book is an ambitious project that applies theories from cognitive developmental psychology to the understanding of artistic development. A large body of data is used to support the author's discussion of prevailing theoretical perspectives, including a wealth of illustrations by children of different ages and abilities. This is important not only in the study of artistic ability and individual differences, but also reflects back on cognitive development itself.

In Antisocial Behaviour by Young People , three specialists on different aspects of behaviour have come together to write a review of the major research evidence of this phenomenon. All the main fields of study are covered from a number of perspectives: psychological (Michael Rutter), criminal (Henri Giller) and social (Ann Hagell). Together, the evidence reported in this book provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary guide to understanding and dealing with delinquency in young people.

Because very young children cannot be prosecuted, the focus of the book is on antisocial behaviour in people between the ages of ten and 19. In chapters two and three, the authors consider relevant methodological and conceptual issues prior to examining the age at which it is viable to apportion blame and criminal responsibility to young people. The rise in crime rates across the world is discussed in chapter four. Relatively serious crime rates have doubled between the 1970s and 1990s. This is particularly noticeable in the United States, where violent crimes committed by juveniles went up by more than 50 per cent between 1988 and 1994.

A discussion of different types of antisocial behaviour is the focal point of chapter five. The authors suggest that there appear to be at least two main categories into which youths displaying antisocial behaviour can fall. The first may be related to cognitive and social problems, that is children with hyperactivity disorder, and is "adolescence-limited", whereas the second, although also having an early onset, persists into adulthood. Other groups of offenders, such as violent offenders, psychopathic offenders and people whose criminal activity may be due to emotional disorders or drug abuse, are also discussed. Causality is examined at length in chapters six to eight, with an in-depth discussion on the interaction between genetic and environmental influences.Rutter et al conclude that there is a strong body of evidence to suggest a genetic component to antisocial behaviour. However, since the nature-nurture debate could have a direct bearing on apportioning blame for a person's antisocial behaviour, they are careful to point out that it is the interaction of both genetic and environmental factors that is involved in whether or not a child will develop such tendencies.

Chapter nine looks at evidence for gender differences, while chapter ten reviews data collected from longitudinal studies over the life span. Interestingly, the longitudinal data suggests that it is possible to detect antisocial behaviour in children as young as three years of age. Being able to identify this at such a young age has implications for early intervention. In the final three chapters, research on prevention and interaction and the relevance this has to policy-making decisions and practice is examined. Taken together, these final chapters explain the practical applications of assessing antisocial behaviour in children and the implication intervention has on crime prevention in general.

Kellman and Arterberry's book is an excellent account of perception development and would be interesting to both academics as well as students.Milbrath's book on the development of artistic talent is an informative and fascinating read, and has already been borrowed by a number of my colleagues. Neither the cognitive nor the social aspects of development have been overlooked in Milbrath's theory. It is well written and would appeal to anyone interested in the development of drawing.

Rutter et al's book is a first-rate review of the recent advances in research, and their implications, into antisocial behaviour in young people. Cognitive, physical and social aspects of antisocial behaviour are addressed, and the arguments and positions in each chapter manage to be current without losing sight of the history of the judicial system and the effect this has had on current research and intervention practices.

Janine Spencer is lecturer in psychology, London Guildhall University.

Patterns of Artistic Development in Children: Comparative Studies of Talent

Author - Constance Milbrath
ISBN - 0 521 44313 X
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £40.00
Pages - 422

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