A KID'S WORLD"
ALAN ALDA Hi, I'm Alan Alda. In this edition, we're going to use
magic to find out how kids see the world.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We'll be bouncing babies and watching them
walk. We'll hear that we are born to talk....
PINKER What's this called?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) .... but that we have to learn to deceive.
I had my fingers crossed.
It's great to see you again.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And we'll hear from a girl who's never spoken.
ALAN ALDA Hiya, Kara.
ALAN ALDA Join me now for It's a Kid's World, on Scientific American
ALAN ALDA There's nothing more miraculous than watching a child
grow up. When Isabel was born, pretty much all she could do
was lie around waving her arms and feet, eating and looking
cute. Now look at her. She six months old, she smiles, she
sits, she can reach for toys - or my nose - she can follow
me with her eyes. Soon she'll be crawling, standing, walking
- the next thing you know she'll be dating and winning the
Nobel Prize. Just imagine how abuzz her head must be with
all the things going on around her, all the things she's finding
out she can do. On this show we going to be trying to get
inside the heads of kids, from infants to 10-year olds, to
find out how they make the journey from babies to little grown-ups.
And we'll be starting with how they figure out one of the
basics: how to get their bodies to move just the way they
want them to.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's a question that has intrigued
scientists for at least 60 years, since this 3-month old was
filmed learning to sit... then 3 months later to crawl...
and at 9 months, take his first supported steps. The film
was made by psychologist Myrtle McGraw, who in the 1930's
did some startling experiments - like dunking a 2-week old
in a pool to see if he could swim. Luckily, he could. Her
most famous experiment was with these twins, Jimmy on the
left and Johnny on the right. Johnny was given some unusual
opportunities. Introduced to roller skates at 13 months, he
was soon an expert. Johnny's physical training continued as
he grew older, and he out performed his untrained twin on
tests of physical strength and agility. But on the basics
- sitting, crawling, walking - Johnny didn't develop any better
more quickly than Jimmy.
GENE GOLDFIELD Why don't you bring Matthew in..
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Myrtle McGraw's research inspired generations
of psychologists to try to find out how much of a baby's physical
development is inborn, and how much comes from on-the-job
GENE GOLDFIELD We're going to prime the pump a little bit
here and see if we can give him the idea that he can bounce
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I recently visited one of these psychologists,
Harvard's Gene Goldfield, on the day he was meeting 6-month
GENE GOLDFIELD Oops.
ALAN ALDA You're suppose to bounce, not fly.
GENE GOLDFIELD They don't know what to in this situation.
These are no instructions. There's no instructor. And so what
do you do? Well, you do whatever you have available, and what
babies have available is that they can kick and look and listen
ALAN ALDA Bounce! Bounce!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Now Matthew certainly isn't genetically programmed
to operate a baby bouncer...
ALAN ALDA And bounce!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) .....And in this first encounter he didn't
discover its secret.
ALAN ALDA If you step off the edge of the earth like that, it's
ALAN ALDA On her first try, 6-month old Eve didn't get very far
either. But by the time of my visit 10 days later..
ALAN ALDA Wait a minute, this is contagious. I like this, you're
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Eve's feet and legs have now figured
out for themselves exactly when and how hard to kick to get
the bouncer bouncing. Eve herself is just having fun.
GENE GOLDFIELD Clearly what she's doing is paying attention
to the fact that something she's doing is producing some effect,
and it's very motivating.
ALAN ALDA Ah, she discovers video!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Eve's brain isn't figuring out the physics
of the bouncer - it's just enjoying the result. Nor have her
genes programmed her to bounce. What's happened is that her
body has discovered for itself just what to do.
ALAN ALDA That's great, isn't it?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This idea that babies bodies aren't rigidly
pre-programmed but have to learn for themselves is at the
core of Esther Thelen's research.
ESTHER THELEN I hope the baby's in a good mood.
DRIVER I think she will be. Mom said that she's well rested
and she's been fed, so she should be in pretty good shape.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Not many research laboratories are able to
travel to the subjects they study rather than the other way
ESTHER THELEN Hi. Come on out. How's your baby?
MOM Doing great.
ESTHER THELEN Good. Take her out the van.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) All of Esther Thelen's research is designed
to catch babies in the act of acquiring some new skill - and
then to try and figure out how the babies did it. Her newest
research project is on how babies learn to control their kicking
- while they 're are still getting used to the idea that they
have legs. Back in her lab at the University of Indiana, she's
already spent several years exploring how babies begin to
use their arms.
ESTHER THELEN Ready? Madeleine....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Baby Madeleine, only 3 months old, hasn't
yet quite got the idea that arms can be used for reaching.
ESTHER THELEN You can see the interest in her eyes. The problem
is, how do they get their arms to do it? Here they have these
two springy things hanging off of their shoulders, and their
problem is how to get first of all just the right amount of
muscle contraction to get their hands up, and then they also
have to calibrate the space, they have to know where the object
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) What Esther wants to know is how the babies
are doing all this - so that Kathryn, for instance, only 5
weeks older than Madeleine, now has reaching down to a fine
ESTHER THELEN There you go! Good. You got it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Esther videotapes the babies.
Watch move his arms, flap his arms up and down. He's waiting
for the toy.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Then from two different angles, she can follow
exactly how the baby goes about reaching. In slow motion,
4-month old Gabriel seems to be flailing around almost at
random. Here's the route his hand takes before he finally
gets the toy. But 7 months later, Gabriel reaches out confidently....
..... and his hand moves smoothly to its goal.
Here it is!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So while all babies finish up reaching in
the same way, they each get there by their own, often circuitous,
route - suggesting to Esther Thelen that how to reach isn't
simply programmed in our genes.
ESTHER THELEN Good girl!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And neither is walking.
EVERYONE Good Job!
ESTHER THELEN When a baby takes his or her first step, it
looks as though the behavior just suddenly appeared. But actually
the baby has been working on that problem for a year beforehand.
So we want to start way before a baby can walk and try and
track the components that go into walking.
MOTHER He's very excited about it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Seven-month old Eli is still a long way from
ESTHER THELEN Let's see your legs!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But Esther want to know if the muscles in
his legs are already getting prepared.
ESTHER THELEN I'm now
putting on these little sensors that will pick up and amplify
the very small electrical changes in his muscles as he contracts
them. And this is really the same as having an EKG. If in
fact I put these on his chest I'd get heartbeat. But I'm going
to get muscle contractions, and these are the little amplifiers.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So that a computer will be able to track
exactly how his legs move, Eli is also fitted out with stick-on
ESTHER THELEN Here's your chance.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Like all babies, when he was born, Eli would
step when held upright. Usually assumed to be some sort of
primitive reflex, the behavior soon disappears.
You gonna walk? But once Eli is placed on the treadmill..
ESTHER THELEN There you go! Walker!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) ...the stepping behavior comes back.
ESTHER THELEN Well, walker, yeah.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So one key component of walking -stepping
- does seem to be inborn.
ESTHER THELEN There you go. Good
ESTHER THELEN I think it probably is built in to
children from the start. And the stretch of the legs on the
treadmill is enough to start that alternating process going.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But there is more to walking than stepping
- as 1 year old Sabra is finding out. When her weight is supported
and she doesn't have to balance, she walks on the treadmill
just fine. And when her walk is analyzed by computer, she
has a steady rhythmic gait. The signals from her leg muscles
show they are smoothly coordinated as they produce each step.
But now Sabra has a tougher test. Her balance is still assisted
by having her hang on to a cart, but this time her legs have
to hold her up as well as walk along. And now her gait is
much more clumsy. What's more, her leg muscles have lost their
regular rhythm. Finally Sabra's is on her own. Having to both
bear her weight and to balance overwhelms the neatly organized
stepping action she could make when supported. Esther Thelen
and her colleagues are just beginning to figure out what's
going on as a baby learns to walk. But already it's clear
that while stepping may be built in, babies, legs have to
figure out for themselves how to stand and balance before
they can rediscover the skill they were born with.
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen. All
you guys ready to see a magic show?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) My enthusiastic young companions are about
to bake a cake.
LIAM THE MAGICIAN ...raise their hands and
give me a good ingredient for our cake. What do you want...
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Sure, put some flour in there.
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Well, like great, great, great. Thank you
very much. Whoa. 1 -- 2 -- 3...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And it is, of course, a magic cake. It came
from nowhere. Then there's the even more awesome magic bag.
LIAM THE MAGICIAN ...magic bag. Now on the count of three...
What's the magic word again?
CHILDREN Hocus pocus!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) How did that happen?
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Excuse
me. Would you help me, sir?
ALAN ALDA Me?
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Yeah, sure.
ALAN ALDA Alright.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Now what's happening? There's this big man
going up on stage... Now they are putting the magician in
the box. They are really sealing him in tight.
you are going to hold the magic curtain.
ALAN ALDA Hold it?
ASSISTANT Wave the magic curtain.
ALAN ALDA Like that?
ASSISTANT Now, wave the magic curtain and
raise it up above your head.
ALAN ALDA Is that high enough?
ASSISTANT A little higher up above
LIAM THE MAGICIAN How's that?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Liam the Magician is also a Harvard
psychologist. After his shows, he asks kids from the audience
to explain what they have seen. How does seven-year-old Dana
think the magician got out of the box?
DANA I don't know.
ALAN ALDA Was it, do you think that anybody could do that? DANA
ALAN ALDA Just him? DANA Yup.
ALAN ALDA And what makes him able to do it? DANA Because he's magic.
ALAN ALDA He's magic?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Daniel is three.
ALAN ALDA Why would the balloon change into the bird?
Because he's, that's magic.
ALAN ALDA That's magic, I see.
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Oh it is? That's
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Magic. For psychologists, it's a perfect
way to explore the young and developing mind. At the University
of Illinois, psychologist Karl Rosengren is finding out where
this idea of magic comes from in the first place.
PARENT Is that the froggie?
PARENT And there is that red bow.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Parents are asked to watch a videotaped magic
show, with their children.
CHILD That's not a story...
WOMAN Do you have magic fingers when you ...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) While Karl watches them watching.
WOMAN What is Dean going to do with this now?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) His basic conclusion -- parents provide
special explanations for extraordinary people and events.
WOMAN Look. He changed them, didn't he? He did magic again.
Parents do sort of build up all of these stories about fantastic
people, people that can do all sorts of things--tooth fairies,
Santa Claus, magicians--who have special powers that differentiate
themselves from other individuals in our culture. And without
the parents who are providing some support for that, it's
unlikely that the child is going to come up with these kinds
of explanations entirely on their own. Let's go find Terry.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But there is more to magic than just parental
suggestion. Kids have to be ready to believe. This experiment
uses an impressive-looking machine to change the size of things.
KARL ROSENGREN This is a special kind of machine. This machine
is going to try to make Terry small. Do you think the machine
can make Terry small? No? I'm going to put Terry right here.
And then we will see if we can make the room and Terry small.
O.K.? Let's say bye-bye to Terry. Bye-bye Terry. O.K.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) To add atmosphere, electronic sounds are
KARL ROSENGREN Do you think the room is going to be
bigger or do you think it is going to small? Small. Shall
we go see it? O.K., let's go see it.
ANDREW Come on, come
on, Dad. Let's go find Terry.
KARL ROSENGREN Can you find
Terry? Where is Terry? He was in the room. Look in the middle--isn't
that Terry? Do you see Terry?
ANDREW There he is!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Far from being amazed at this magic event,
three-year-old Andrew goes straight to the shrunken room as
if nothing had happened.
MAN Do you think the machine made it small?
ANDREW I don't know.
KARL ROSENGREN To them, this
is a machine just like a TV or a VCR that can be remotely
controlled, or like a remote garage door opener. It's, it's
a new machine that can do this thing, and they might be surprised
the first time, but very quickly they sort of accept this
as something within the realm of possibility.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Consistently, three and four year olds accept
that the machine changes the size of the room. They have not
yet had enough experience with the world to know such a thing
is not only novel, but probably not even possible.
O.K., let's go find Terry. Let's go find Terry. Let's go find
Terry. Where is Terry? There he is.
ANDREW It made it big.
KARL ROSENGREN It made it big. One of the important things
that children must learn is what kinds of things are typical
or possible in the world, and until the child sort of differentiates
those things that are possible from those things that are
not, in a sense there is no room for magic.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Just down the hall from Karl, Renee Baillargeon
is finding out when that sense of the possible begins to develop.
Renee's group puts on magic shows for babies -- with results
that have astonished her colleagues around the world. Each
show tests whether babies know some basic physical rule --
that objects can't just disappear, for example.
If babies have the knowledge, they will be puzzled or surprised
or intrigued by our magical events, and we know when babies
are surprised or puzzled, they tend to scrutinize the events,
to look and look and look at them. And so what we do in our
experiments is compare infants' responses to magical events,
and non-magical or real events, to see whether they look longer
at the magical than at the real ones.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As Holly's attention is captured, a hidden
observer starts the timer. This time it's a non-magical, normal
event. The three-month-old is soon bored -- she looks away
-- and the clock is stopped. Now for the impossible, or magical
event. Holly stares. She really scrutinizes the event. That
means she is surprised. Even at three months, she knows the
world doesn't work this way. Backstage there's a simple explanation
-- two dolls moved independently. But Holly is riveted --
and even startled by such an illogical sight. Over many trials,
three-month-olds have been consistently surprised by the disappearing
doll trick. They all seem to understand it's not possible.
But take a look at the next result. Babies like Felix, who
were just two weeks older, were not surprised. Renee concluded
their world view was more sophisticated.
These babies spontaneously came to the conclusion that we
were using two different objects, two Minis, to produce the
event. And so what we did to test this interpretation was
to lower the screen at the start of each event. We say, uh
uh, this is not what is going on here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) O.K., he thinks, I see they've got just one
doll up there. But unknown to Felix, when the arch is raised,
the second doll is slipped back in. And once again, these
slightly older babies were back to being surprised -- which
seems to confirm Renee's conclusion that they had figured
out the original trick. In the box experiment, Renee's been
testing what babies know about falling. Three-month-olds like
Holly don't find the non-magical event interesting. They soon
look away. But in the magical variation... That's much more
interesting. Really worth staring at. So it seems that by
three months, babies have learned that unsupported things
should fall. But once again, there was a twist to the story.
Slightly older babies usually weren't upset when the box just
hung in midair. Now it was the researchers' turn to be surprised.
RENEE BAILLARGEON We were very, very puzzled by that result,
and it actually took us weeks and weeks and months of thinking
through what could be going on and trying all kinds of different
hypotheses, until finally one day we came to this idea that,
my goodness! What if they thought that somehow the finger,
which was the only thing in contact with the box, had become
attached to it? And that is why they weren't surprised. They
were generating an explanation -- in this case an incorrect
one, but a relatively plausible one -- for the box's failure
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) To test this explanation, they changed the
trick so that the finger lost contact with the box. And sure
enough, the babies were once again startled by the sight.
RENEE BAILLARGEON It is absolutely remarkable that such little
babies, when shown our surprising events, you know, are actively
thinking about what we showed them, and actively searching
for and finding explanations for what they see. And I think
it really gives us a fascinating insight into what babies
are doing when they look at the world around them.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So if babies can be so logical, how can kids
believe in magic? The answer seems to be that around age five
or six, there are still gaps in children's knowledge of the
LIAM THE MAGICIAN We'll get you out of there
-- one sec.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) They are prepared to fill those gaps with
a sort of catch-all explanation... It must be magic. But by
age seven, a firm sense of reality has set in.
ALAN ALDA I got a question for you. How did I get into the box?
CHILD Um, there was a hole over here and you opened it.
ALAN ALDA Yeah?
CHILD Because there was a hole.
ALAN ALDA A hole in the box.
CHILD I saw that trick before but
I forget how it is done.
ALAN ALDA Oh, it's a trick?
CHILD Oh, I know how. When you waved
it up, you must have opened the box and you switched places.
AUDIENCE One... Two... Three...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In fact, it's not until we are much older
that we allow ourselves to suspend our hard-won beliefs...
LIAM THE MAGICIAN Brian, your underwear came off!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And just enjoy the show.
PINKER Do you know what this thing's called? It's called a
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Three - year old Peter is learning a new
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So, for that matter, am I.
PINKER I've got another one...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Our teacher is Steven Pinker, a psychologist
who believes children have an instinct for language.
PINKER I've got two of them... I've got two...
PINKER That's right.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's kids' astonishing ability to soak up
language that's led Pinker to conclude we must be born with
its building blocks already in our heads.
PINKER That's called a "toma. " Can you say toma?
PINKER No? That's a hard one? Can you say toe?
PINKER Can you say ma?
PINKER Can you say toe-ma?
PINKER Oh, you can say it! I knew you could say it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Pinker and his colleagues at MIT have taught
nonsense words to hundreds of kids to see if they'll apply
the same rules of grammar to made-up words as they do to real
PINKER If that's a toma, and that's a toma, I have two...
PINKER That's exactly what I've got.
PINKER Human language is very, very special. It's not like
most of the mechanical language devices that we have such
as our friend over here. Now he's got programmed into him
a few dozen canned sentences. And he just blurts them out
verbatim. But people, including kids, aren't like that. We
don't have whole sentences prefrabicated in our brains. We
put them together on the fly. So I could tell you giant 30
ft purple gerbils are attacking Boston. I could tell you that
Michael Jackson married Elvis's daughter. Brand new things
you have no way of expecting....
All these incredible things..
PINKER All of these amazing things..
And somehow I would understand what you were saying.
PINKER And you could understand what I was saying. And the
reason we can do it is that we have got grammatical rules
in our heads. Not the kind of rules that your school marm
tried to drill into about spilt infinitives. But things that
allow you to string words together. Assemble words out of
bits of words to convey brand new thoughts.
PINKER Now Alan's going to show you this one..
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The wugs and tomas show how quickly kids
pick up the rule for making plurals.
PINKER Do you know that guy?
PINKER Okay. Now we're going to teach you how to chan.
Here's how you chan.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kids also quickly learn grammatical
rules for verbs. Listen for Erin's past tense of "to chan".
ALAN What did I just do?
Channed Cookie Monster.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Simply from listening to the conversations
going on around her...
PINKER There! That's how you pell.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) .....Erin has learned how to make the past
tense of verbs - by applying another rule of English - add
PINKER What did you just do?
I pelled Big Bird.
PINKER You did!
PINKER If you asked a kid what they are doing, they couldn't
tell you this. But that's sort of what's going on in the background
of their mind. Then whenever they hear a new word- to pell-
and they have to talk about what happened in the past, they
can say pelled, even though they have obviously never heard
anyone say pelled before.
Is that how you how you know they've internalized a rule?
That they can take a brand new word and put it in the past
tense by adding an "ed" which they know is the way
you do it?
PINKER Exactly. If they just said, stayed, played, talked,
swallowed- we have know way of knowing whether they put it
together on the fly using a rule, or wrote memorized from
their parents. But if they can say things like pelled or channed;
or for the plural, if they can talk about two wugs or two
tomas, since they never have heard wugs - we know that since
we taught it to them there and then - we know they have to
put it together on the fly.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Steve Pinker's favorite example of how well
children pick-up the rules of language comes when they make
mistakes - using a rule where they shouldn't. The earmuffs
prevent the lion from hearing...
Now he can't see either.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) ......so only Erin hears my story.
ALAN ALDA (telling story) The frog is kind of bored. So he decides
to go for a walk. He walks outside and finds a pad and pencil
in the street. So he picks up the pencil and decides to draw
a picture of a car. And he walks over to Elmo's house and
gives the picture to Elmo. And Elmo says "Great! I love pictures!
I am going to give this to a friend of mine!" So, he walks
over to Alan's house and he sticks the picture on Alan's head.
That's the story.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Telling the lion the story requires putting
it in the past tense. Listen for how Erin handles the irregular
So he drawed a picture of a car. And he gave it ..and he said
what a nice picture, I think I'm going to give it to Elmo.
So he walked to Elmo's house and gave it to Elmo. And Elmo
said I know who needs a picture like this. And Elmo walked
over and sticked it on..
ALAN ALDA Alan.
PINKER That's very good
PINKER That's another way we know that they are not just memorizing
words. That they are right from the beginning sort of abstracting
out these rules and applying them to new forms. Because if
they are saying bringed - they obviously haven't heard Mom
and Dad say bringed. Mom and Dad say brought, but at that
moment the child is trying to use bring in the past tense,
brought isn't coming to mind fast enough. If they are at the
age where they know add an "ed" to form a past tense..
ALAN ALDA Even though they have heard brought, they will say bring
because the rule is sort of powerful to them.
PINKER Well, I think the rule is there to fill in the gap
whenever the past tense doesn't come to mind quickly enough.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So firmly and so naturally do children grasp
the rules of language that Pinker is convinced our brains
are built with language in mind.
PINKER What did the airplane just do?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Humans, he believes, are born with an instinct
for language - an instinct that carries us through even when
a particular language's annoying little details still have
to be learned.
I just flied it.
PINKER Obviously no language is innate. Take any kid from
any race, bring them up in any culture and they will learn
the language equally quickly. So no particular language is
in the genes. But what might be in the genes is the ability
to acquire language...
PINKER Can you say that?
PINKER So it's not any particular lanquage. It's the bits
and pieces that language is built out of that I think they
are born with.
PINKER Can you tell me what I have on this table?
PINKER That's right!
back to top
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) All parents know that pre-schoolers have
some very odd ideas.
Tonight this will glow in the dark...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Not, as we've already seen, about how the
world works- but about what they and others think.
I'm now drawing a picture of a TV...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In fact, even parents don't realize what
a very strange mental world little kids inhabit. This is University
of Toronto psychologist Philip Zalazo, about to play a card
game with 3-year old Jonathan. The object of the game is to
see if Jonathan can sort the cards using a simple rule.
ZALAZO And in the shape game, if I show you a boat like this,
I want you to put it in to this box. But if I show you a rabbit
like this one, I want you to put it over here. Look, here's
a red boat, which box does that go in?
ZALAZO Okay. Boats go here, rabbits go here in the shape game.
Look, here is a blue rabbit. Which box does that go in?
ZALAZO Okay. Let's do if one more time, then we'll play a
new game. If it's a boat it goes here, but rabbits have to
go in this box...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jonathan's got this all game figured out.
But now Phil changes the rules
ZALAZO Now, you know what, we're going to play a new game.
We're not going to play the shape game, we're going to play
the color game. In the color game, if I show you a blue one
you have to put it in this box. But I show you an red one
like that, then I want you to put it over here. Okay? Right
look at this. Here's a red boat. Which box does this go in,
in the color game?
ZALAZO OK. You know what? Can you show me where do the blue
ones go in the color game?
ZALAZO And where do the red ones go?
ZALAZO So what about this blue rabbit? Which box does that
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Even though Jonathan has just the repeated
the rules for the new color game, he keeps playing by the
rules of the old shape game. Now the obvious explanation is
that its easier to sort by shape than color. So with Libby,
Phil started with the color game - which she plays just fine.
Now Phil switches to the shape game.
ZALAZO Can you show me, where do the boat go in the shape
game? And where do the rabbits go? Look, here's a red boat.
Where does that go in the shape game?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Libby, just like Jonathan and all the 3-year
olds Phil Zalazo has tested, seems to get stuck on the first
rule she learns. It's as if the 3-year old mind somehow doesn't
know what it knows. Nothing demonstrates that better then
a simple but startling experiment Janet Astington, also of
the University of Toronto, does with 3-year olds like Jacob,
and a juice box.
ASTINGTON What's in the box?
ASTINGTON Oh, look at that! What are they?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Jacob calls the ribbons ropes - which is
fine, because it's the next question that counts.
ASTINGTON Now, what did you think was in the box before I
turned it over?
ASTINGTON It's surprising when, you think, well surely they
should remember, they just said juice a moment ago. It's really
surprising when they say that they thought there were ribbons
in there. And you realize that they don't they just don't
think about the world in the same way we do.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Not only is Jacob now convinced he always
thought there were ropes in the box. He also believes if he
thinks something, so must everyone else.
ASTINGTON Now, Jesse hasn't seen inside this box. What will
Jesse think is inside before I turn it over?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The innocence of the 3-year old mind is both
wonderful and a little spooky. And it's led Toronto's Tom
Keenen and David Olsen to play an elaborate game to find out
if young children understand deception. One of the players
is 3-year old Ross.
KEENEN This is Jonathan, and this is his big sister Katie
and that's Jonathan and Katie's mother. And I want you to
pretend that they're real people, just like you and me, O.K.?
Now look at Jonathan. Jonathan has big feet. And Katie has
little feet. Now watch what happens as they walk through the
four. They make footprints. O.K. Do you see the footprints
they make? Now, can you tell me which footprints are Jonathan's
footprints? Which ones did he make? That's right, those are
Jonathan's footprints. O.K., now can you point to Katie's
footprint? Which ones did Katie make? Very good. O.K., now,
what we're going to do, I'm going to tell you a little story
about Katie and Jonathan.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The story takes place in the family's kitchen.
Mom spilled flour all over the floor while baking the muffins
that Jonathan and Katie now can't wait to eat.
KEENEN So they ask Mom if they can have some muffins. But
Mom says, "You can't have muffins right now, dinner's almost
ready." So Katie and Jonathan go back to their bedroom. Now
Mom hears the phone ring. So she goes downstairs to answer
the phone. And when she's downstairs she can't see us and
she can't hear us, okay. Okay, now. You know what Katie does?
Katie decides she's going to take some muffins. So here comes
Katie. But before she takes the muffins, she puts on Jonathan's
great big shoes.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Tom spells out for Ross exactly why Katie
KEENEN So here goes Katie. She put on Jonathan's shoes so
she'll leave big footprints in the flour and so that her Mom
will think that Jonathan took the muffins. O.K.? So here she
goes....Katie grabs the muffins and eats them all up. Now
Katie hears her mother coming back, so she runs off to the
bedroom. And here comes Mom. Now Mom sees that the muffins
are all gone. And Mom also sees the big footprints in the
flour. Now, can you tell me who ate the muffins? Which one
ate the muffins, was it Katie or was it Jonathan?
KEENEN Right. And did Mom see Katie eat the muffins? No, she
didn't, did she? O.K. Now are there big or little footprints
in the flour? Are those the big ones or the little ones?
KEENEN They're the big ones, OK.......
So they're Jonathan's!
KEENEN Okay. So, who will Mom think ate the muffins? Will
she think it was Katie or will she think it was Jonathan?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Despite apparently following the logic of
the story every step of the way, Ross still can't see that
Mom doesn't know what he knows. This belief that thoughts
in you head are somehow public knowledge - that what you think,
everyone thinks - is almost the definition of childish innocence.
Watch this wonderful example with psychologist Joan Peskin
and 3- year old Jacob.
PESKIN You're going to choose one of the stickers and he's
going to choose one of the stickers. But he always chooses
first. And he always chooses one that you really want. He
doesn't care if you're sad. Let's put monkey into another
room so that he doesn't know which sticker you really want.
You tell me, which sticker do you not want? Okay. Now I'm
going to bring back Mean Monkey, and he's going to choose
first. Remember, he always wants the sticker you really want.
He doesn't care if you're sad. So think of what you can do
or say so that he doesn't get the one that you really want.
Here comes Mean Monkey. "Hmm, which sticker am I going to
choose? Jacob, which sticker do your really want? "Oh, well
I'm going to take that one! So you get to take this one."
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Joan repeats the experiment several times
with each child, giving them ample opportunity to deceive
the monkey as to what they really want.
PESKIN Tell me, which sticker do you really like? That one.
And which sticker do you not want. That one. Okay. "Umm, Jacob,
which sticker are you going to take? "Well, I'm going to take..."
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Bravely accepting, 3-year old Jacob never
figures out that the monkey can be fooled. But what of Patrick,
18 months older - and already with a knowing gleam in his
PESKIN Let's put monkey in another room so that he doesn't
know which sticker you really want. Okay. Which one do you
really like, point to the one your really like. That one.
And which sticker do you really not want? Which is a yucky
sticker? That one. Okay. We'll leave those stickers there,
and I'm going to bring in Mean Monkey. "Hmm, let me see which
one I want. Patrick, which one do your really like? "Oh, well,
I'm going to take that one, and you get to have that one."
I had my fingers crossed!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Patrick has also crossed a threshold into
the adult world. He's now old enough to know that he can think
things that others don't. That his thoughts are his alone.
PESKIN From about four and a half to five they suddenly and
rapidly get that knowledge. They begin to think about people's
thoughts. They begin to think that somebody can think something
different from what they know. That people's thoughts vary,
are private, maybe incorrect; people can have false thoughts
about something that they know to be true
ASTINGTON Once you understand that, then you can explain all
sorts of things about why people do things which seem strange
to you. They're looking for things and you know that's not
where they are. It also means then that you can understand
how to surprise people, how to trick people because once you've
made this spilt between the mind and the world then you can
think about people's minds and manipulate the way the world
is so that they come to believe certain things about it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Teachers, parents - and grandparents - are
endlessly trying to fathom the minds of the very young. It's
no wonder we find it so fascinating and so frustrating: they
really are in a world of their own.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Our final story is about is about how Kara
Johansen came to make a telephone call to her sister Melly
- an ordinary event made extraordinary by the fact that Kara,
born with cerebral palsy, has never talked. I first met Kara
18 months ago. Her mother, Pam Johansen spoke aloud what Kara
had to say by reading the letters Kara looked at on a plastic
JOHANSEN A, N, D- and K- and S, O. And someone - someone says
it. I appreciated pam Johansen's skill at translating for
Kara even better when I tried it myself.
ALAN ALDA What was the play about? S, E, W. No? X - Sex? No? -
Well, it was the letter I saw.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kara's family and close friends are almost
as skilled as Pam Johansen at using the board. The communication
it allows is central to the bond that exists between Kara
and her sister, Melly.
JOHANSEN Kara and I are really close and we have been that
way every since she was little. And a lot of times people
categorize her- she can't do this, she can't go on a roller-coaster,
she can't off a diving board. And that has never been a barrier
between us , because she has done all of that and that is
what keeps us together most of the time - because we have
overcome so much together.
JOHANSEN I don't want to do this!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But two years ago, Melly started boarding
school - and now sisterly chats are much more difficult.
JOHANSEN Its hard for us to communicate. It has to be over
the phone and there needs to be a person communicating with
Kara just to be able to tell me what she is saying. If there
was a way that I could talk to her directly, it would be perfect.
No-one better appreciates Kara's need to talk directly than
the person who has always been her principal voice - her mother.
JOHANSEN Kara loves Melly and Melly loves Kara. And Kara would
love to privately talk to her sister without any other person,
without an adult - without a mother - to censor what was being
said. And she would love to communicate with Melly on her
own, very privately, and talk their secret stuff that they
have to share.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Ricky Razdan is co-founder of I-scan, a company
that builds devices - mainly for the military and advertising
companies - that can tell where people are looking.
RAZDEN So you can see an image of my eye up there, my pupil,
and a reflection off my cornea - that is the bright spot.
And Al is going to turn on a couple of functions and we are
going to be tracking my pupil movement. So as I look left
or right and up and down, you should see the crosshair moving
with my pupil.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In the spring of 1994, Howard Shane and his
colleagues at Boston's Children's Hospital in Boston began
working with I-scan to see if tracking her eyes could give
Kara an independent voice.
SHANE Kara, all we are doing now is just experimenting. And
you have to have an open.... an open what Kara? You know the
next word? Open what?
JOHANSEN M, I, N, D.
SHANE Great. Let us try some things out. O.K.?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Howard Shane first met Kara when she was
three - and he knows her to have very definite opinions. She
especially dislikes things on her head - and in this case
who can blame her?
JOHANSEN It's T, O, O- its too- B, U, L , K - it's too bulky?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kara tolerates the headgear long enough for
the researchers to confirm her gaze is steady enough to be
tracked. But this first session also confirms Kara's opinion
of things on her head.
JOHANSEN It's sliding down over her eyes.
SHANE Just use your eyes and follow my fingers. Are you comfortable
now? Alright. Just your eyes- just your eyes- just your eyes.
So another option is explored. If her head could somehow be
steadied, then perhaps the eye-tracking system could simply
be mounted in front of her, instead of on a head-band.
RAZDAN Her eye control is really good. It's what we thought,
but we weren't sure. And I think with that kind of head stability
- no problem.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Over the spring and summer of 1994, Kara
and Pam Johansen made many visits to Children's. Work on the
new system was going slowly. And Pam Johansen was acutely
aware that Kara's need for independent communication was becoming
JOHANSEN O.K. Make a third wish. Pam Johansen had begun to
lose her own battle with cancer. She died on October 21st.
Three months later, accompanied by her father, Kara was back
at Children's. SUE RUSSELL Finally Kara, after working so
many months, we finally got a mechanism to keep your head
nice and still for the eye tracking system. Let me get it
just right. O.K.?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The helmet might seem an odd device for someone
who hates things on her head, but by holding her head steady
it freed Kara from having a camera system dangled in front
of her face. Now the camera is mounted in front of her. From
alongside it, an invisible infrared beam shines at her eye.
The system tracks her eye with the help of two crosshairs
- one centered on her pupil, the other on the reflection of
the infrared beam. By comparing the position of the two crosshairs,
a computer can tell precisely where her eye is pointed. The
system is calibrated by having Kara look at numbered squares
on a screen. When her eye fixes on a square, it lights up.
Once the device knows exactly where on the screen she is looking,
then the numbered squares can be replaced by letters of the
RAZDAN If you don't think it's right there, just look around
that area until it highlights.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Or by phrases that can be spoken aloud by
a voice synthesizer.
It' s great to see you again.
ALAN ALDA What a nice reception! Hiya Kara! It 's great to see
you again too!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Kara had prepared several phrases in anticipation
of my visit - including a reminder of the first time we met.
I haven't done any more plays about sex!
ALAN ALDA Having you been spending a lot of time trying to get
this machine to work right?
ALAN ALDA How is going with school? You manage to get your school
work done while doing all this?
I made the honor roll.
ALAN ALDA That's wonderful. O.K. if I try this?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I got to try out the test version of what
might eventually become an alphabet board like the one Kara
uses now. But this one could be linked to a word processor
that would allow her to write, plus a voice synthesizer that
could real aloud what she had written.
Hello Dr Watson.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But getting the letters to turn red could
sometimes be frustratingly difficult.
ALAN ALDA I can sort of guess what problems Kara must have. Because
when I look at a letter, and I just may be slightly out of
calibration.. I almost get it to turn red. but it doesn't
quite. I can feel myself starting to strain- starting to will
it to register my gaze, and I tense up.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) If the system can be fine-tuned to Kara's
special needs, it can also be adapted to others'.
ALAN ALDA What do you think this will lead to? What do see as the
future of this whole method?
SHANE For Kara and for others I see this as a way for people
with severe motor impairments to be able to write. To be able
to communicate, to be able to control computers. I think the
potential is unlimited.
ALAN ALDA She could even control other devices- maybe? Not just
computers. Through a computer anything else.
SHANE Oh sure. She'll be able to dial the telephone. I mean
that's kind of agreement- a tacit agreement that Kara and
I have . That she is going to be able to make a telephone
call. That's the deal we made. That is what got her back into
ALAN ALDA I hear her perking up. She is ready to be a telephone
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In January 1995, almost a year after work
on the eye tracking system began, Melly Johansen - away at
her boarding school in Maine -received a telephone call from
JOHANSEN Hello. Hello?
Hi Melly. Its Kara.
JOHANSEN Hi Kara.
I'm using the I-Scan computer system for this phone conversation.
JOHANSEN That's good. Do you like it?
JOHANSEN Did you have fun in school today?
JOHANSEN Why not because it was Friday and you had to go?
When you play basketball, did you win?
JOHANSEN Of course not, we never win. I scored eight points.
And the other eight points, I assisted. Kara, how is school
Good, but very stressful.
JOHANSEN Excited about coming up next weekend?
JOHANSEN Good. I 'm really excited about you coming up too.
Okay, kiddo, I got to go.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This was the first time Melly and Kara had
ever talked by phone without someone else -usually her mother
- speaking for Kara.
JOHANSEN I will see you next weekend when you come up. Okay?
Of course, this conversation was hardly private or spontaneous.
But in spelling out her final message, Kara was taking the
first step toward the independent voice her mother had so
wished for her.
I love you, Melly.
JOHANSEN I love you. Bye-bye.