TEDxGlasgow speaks to our game changing 2016 speakers, who discuss their passions, their motivations and why they have stood up to the TEDxGlasgow podium. Marco Plas, the Head of Research for The Wonder Weeks, discusses the importance of early development and how we need to focus on the disruptions.
Mental development and learning between 0-5 years is arguably the most important period of development in a lifetime. How has your research at The Wonder Weeks changed your perception of development as a whole?
Dr. Frans Plooij and Dr. Hetty van de Rijt, founders of the Wonder Weeks, discovered what might well be one of the biggest discoveries in infant mental development of the last century. Babies develop in leaps; meaning, at set times all babies develop a ‘new level’ of perception which unlocks a whole new cluster of potential. These leaps are the reason baby’s have these fussy periods; parents get in despair and happy family life is momentarily disrupted.
Although, and I would like to stress this, the disruption we experience as adults is peanuts compared to the disruption babies perceive. Making a leap is as disruptive as life can get. It’s like waking up on a new planet.
I joined The Wonder Weeks team four years ago with a background in analyses and applied mathematics. I am currently in charge of the research done by developmental psychologists who are researching the mental development in the age category of 20 to 60 month of life.
Nature or nurture?
Both. Nature provides the tools; nurture enables us to use these tools. The differences in our genes determine how robust the tools are that we’ve been given. Nurture is the key component to develop the potential that we have been given. Nurture, especially in the first couple of years is crucial. The question if something is nature or nurture related is only relevant if we can use the answer to help us develop further. In a lot of cases however the answer is used as an excuse.
You describe the development of a baby’s brain as a series of disruptions; what do you mean by that?
Imagine you go to bed, knowing the world around you and feeling comfy. You wake up and EVERYTHING is different. Like you woke up on a new planet. You see different thing, hear different things, smell different things and understand different things. How would you feel? You would cry, cling to the very few things you did know and your mood most certainly not be at its best. This is a comparison to what babies go through. A baby didn’t ask for a leap to happen, he cannot stop it from happening: it just happens. It disrupts his whole perception of the world. Not once, but 10 times during the first 2 years of life.
What does the word ‘disruption’ mean to you and why?
For me disruption means a sudden change in perception. We (adults) have expectations; we perceive things. When reality is different then what we expect, we experience disruption. For a baby, this is rather different. Their perception is in the process of creation. In a sense, they don’t understand what they perceive and have no way of communication their distress. The disruption that a baby experience is therefore far greater. We adults have means of controlling our disruption: we can talk about it, find answers to it, move away from it, etc. A baby can’t. Image if you can’t speak, can’t move your body, and can’t explain what’s wrong. You can only hope that your parents understand.
Why did you decide to step up and do a TEDx talk?
Well, someone needs to step up for babies, right?
Our mission is to help parents and professionals understand what goes on in the developing minds of babies. We have an opportunity and obligation to help our children develop their potential. So when we heard about TEDx theme this year, we felt obligated to speak on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves, but experience disruption far greater then any adult.
What are your three top TED talks of all time and why?
Sir Robbinson is absolutely right. The potential that is given to children is treated wrongly. Children have so much potential, but we are only developing such a small portion, while repressing the rest. We see the same in our research. There is no lack of good intentions however; the world is just not well informed yet.
There is a vast amount of research showing that a plant-based diet is very beneficial, not only for the body, but also for the mind. We belief that people should make their own, well-informed choices in life, and Ori Shavit is doing a great job at delivering the key message.
Sheena touches on a very important point: making choices. Choosing is part of our everyday lives, and even if we don’t choose, we’ve made an implicit choice. The choices we make determine the direction of our lives. When we become parents, our choices also shape the direction of our children’s lives.
There is still time to see Marco speak about ‘The Wonder Weeks’ at TEDxGlasgow on June 3rd. You can register here.