The human brain is often referred to as a “prediction machine.” From as early as the womb, human brains make predictions based upon experience. Predictions create certain “expectations” which may be either met or violated. Predictions are first made in regard to body movements and sensations. As the infant develops, predictions concerning the external world are made — including predictions of ways in which the infant might influence the behaviours of the outside world.
A common method of studying cognition in human infants is the “Violation of Expectation” approach. Infants can reveal their expectations from an early age. The sophistication of infant expectations develops with age and experience, providing a fascinating window into infant cognitive development.
As children grow and develop, they are called upon to plan and execute actions that are more and more sophisticated, with greater and greater skill. The ability to plan, execute, sequence, and prioritise actions requires the development of so-called executive functions. Skillful executive function requires coordination between various parts of the pre-frontal cortex, basal ganglia, limbic system, and other specialised brain centres.
Experience creates and guides expectation. Significant authority figures can also help set a child’s expectations — for better or ill. For example:
Since children are easily convinced of certain tenets especially when told to them by an authority figure like a parent or teacher, they may believe whatever is taught to them even if what is taught has no factual basis. If the student or child were to act on false information, certain positive or negative unintended consequences could result. If overly positive or elevated expectations were used to describe or manipulate a person’s self-image and execution falls short, the results could be a total reversal of that person’s self-confidence. If thought of in terms of causality or cause and effect, the higher a person’s expectation and the lower the execution, the higher the frustration level may become. This in turn could cause a total cessation of effort and motivate the person to quit. __ Wikipedia “Expectation”
If a child is excessively gullible he may believe whatever he is told by parents, teachers, religious figures, friends and older siblings, media figures and celebrities, and political leaders. Such children may be easily led into group delusions such as climate apocalypse, violent religious supremacy, and a worshipful adoration of charismatic leaders. He may also be subject to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, which he may avoid at the cost of using his own rational judgment.
If the child is encouraged to develop his own faculties of prediction and expectation — and allowed to contradict conventional thinking as long as he can support his reasoning — he is more likely to move beyond the herd into less explored territory.
What parts of the brain are involved in prediction and expectation?
… different parts of the brain have been associated with predictive processing, specifically different sensory cortices, the thalamus, the prefrontal cortex and the motor system. These sections described only a subset of contexts which afford predictability, most of which were limited to short timescales. In addition, it is important to mention that a pivotal role in prediction on longer timescales can be associated with the prefrontal cortex which is, together with medial temporal regions, especially the hippocampus (Eichenbaum and Fortin, 2009 ; Lisman and Redish, 2009 ), and posterior cerebral cortices (including the lateral parietal and temporal regions, the precuneus and the retrosplenial cortex), crucial for imagining the future as well as remembering the past (Schacter et al., 2007 ; Schacter and Addis, 2009 ). However, although this region is also typically considered as the key region implicated in planning (Fuster, 1997 ), the contributions of the parietal cortices should also be acknowledged in this context (Ruby et al., 2002 ). Furthermore, a more central role of lateral parietal, together with premotor regions can be posited for formulating temporal expectations (Coull and Nobre, 2008 ; Coull, 2009 ). In addition, it is important to mention other brain regions which have been associated with predictive processing, e.g., the basal ganglia (Schultz and Dickinson, 2000 ; Flesischer, 2007 ; Kotz et al., 2009 ) and especially the ventral striatum in reward prediction (Knutson and Cooper, 2005 ) or amygdala, insula and the anterior cingulate cortex in pain or emotional processing (Ploghaus et al., 1999 ; Porro et al., 2003 ; Ueda et al., 2003 ). Not questioning the validity of these or accounts previously specified, it is still important to note one danger which can be associated with considering all of these accounts together, without clearly specifying the type of predictive processing they refer to. Specifically, if one was to try and summarize all brain areas which have so far been mentioned as incorporating some aspect of predictive processing, these would include: unimodal sensory cortices, lateral and medial parietal and temporal areas, orbitofrontal, medial frontal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, premotor cortex, insula, cerebellum, basal ganglia, amygdala and thalamus (Figure 4 ). In other words, the whole brain. __ http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2010.00025/full
But don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the complexity of detail in how the brain functions as “a prediction machine.” Our brains make us who and what we are, and it is important that we learn more about how our brains function as we go along — but at a measured pace that we can tolerate and maintain.
Expectations are crucial components to the goals we set for ourselves, and the levels of self-discipline we are willing to exercise in balancing present and future indulgences, sacrifices, and exertions.
These are matters that should not wait for adulthood, nor for college, nor for adolescence. These are matters involving executive functions which should be trained between approximately four years of age and seven years of age. Earlier training in executive function takes place via the toddler’s observation of the actions of those around him, and via direct sensory feedback in the natural course of upbringing.
The foundations for childhood learning and skills development are laid very early in life. Some of these foundations are laid before conception, others while in the womb, still others before the acquisition of language in infancy, and most of the rest during the busy early years of neuronal development and pruning — involving several sensitive developmental periods.
By the time a child begins formal schooling, it is already too late for some of the most important training in prediction and expectation that he will receive.
We at The Dangerous Child Institute are exquisitely sensitive to these phenomena. And yet, we continue to say that “it is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood.” Why?
More on that topic to come.
Developing interaction of attention, memory, and emotion plays a crucial role in the construction of the largely automatic prediction machine. Prediction and expectation are phenomena that can be observed and trained. The underpinnings of expectation may only be noticed when they fail due to poor development or lack of training.