Brain plasticity and cognitive and behavioral changes in early development: 19th century perspectives

Isabelle BARRIERE1 and Marjorie Perlman LORCH2
1Department of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire & Department of Cognitive Science, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA; and 2Department of Applied Linguistics, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK


This paper discusses the findings which emerge from the examination of nineteenth century monographs and unpublished archives produced by prominent European and American clinicians, philosophers, neurologists and developmental psychologists. These writings demonstrate that a distinction was made between the possibilities of recovery in children and adults exhibiting behavioral and/or cognitive disorders. Secondly, they observed that the acquisition of certain cognitive abilities was easier for children than for adults (see Ball, in Kussmaul, 1881, for instance). Charcot (unpublished ms) and Ribot (1881) both evoked brain plasticity to explain these differences between adults and children when it comes to both recovery of functions and cognitive development while Ball (1881) and Baldwin (1906) evoke the interdependence of cognitive capacities.

The findings which emerge from this investigation pertain to the research strategies applied to the study of brain maturation (Parrot, 1879) and the behavioral evidence on the basis of which a causal relation was established between the maturation of the brain and cognitive development. The implication of this investigation for the conceptualizations of critical periods in development, the distinction between (typical and atypical) children and adult populations, and the current notion of 'modularisation' are discussed.

Baldwin, J.M. (1906) Mental development in the child and the race. 3rd edition. New York: MacMillan.

Kussmaul, A. (1884) Les troubles de la parole: traduction française augmentée de notes par le Dr. A. Rueff; précédée d'une introduction par B. Ball.

Parrot, M.J. (1879) Sur le développmernt du cerveau chez les enfants du premier âge. Archives de physiologie normale et pathologique, 2ème série, vol. 6, pp505-521.

Ribot, T. (1881) Les maladies de la Mémoire. Paris: Baillière.

Unpublished archive: Observations Charcot, Bibliothèque Charcot Paris VI, MA 8 12, Chemises 4-2.


Session II -- Poster Session
Sunday, 2 June 2002, 10:00 - 11:00 am

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA