Dan Freedman’s babies

Daniel Freedman was a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago.  For his doctoral thesis, he did adoption studies with dogs.  He had noticed that different dog breeds had different personalities, and thought it would be interesting to see if personality was inborn, or if it was somehow caused by the way in which the mother raised her puppies.  Totally inborn.  Little beagles were irrepressibly friendly.  Shetland sheepdogs  were most sensitive to a loud voice or the slightest punishment. Wire-haired terriers were so tough and aggressive that Dan had to wear gloves when playing with puppies that were only three weeks old. Basenjis were aloof and independent.

He decided to try the same thing with human infants of different breeds.  Excuse me, different races. He looked at newborn babies in a hospital in San Francisco where his first child had been born. He compared Cantonese babies with babies of Northern European origin. The division of sexes was the same, the mothers were the same age, they had about the same number of previous children, and they had been administered the same drugs in the same amounts  during labor.

White babies started to cry more easily, and once they started, they were more difficult to console. Chinese babies adapted to almost any position in which they were placed; for example, when placed face down in their cribs, they tended to keep their faces buried in the sheets rather than immediately turning to one side, as the Caucasian babies did. They briefly pressed the baby’s nose with a cloth, forcing him to breath with his mouth. Most white (and black) babies fight this maneuver by immediately turning away or swiping at the cloth with their hands, and this is reported in Western pediatric textbooks as normal. While the average Chinese baby would simply lay on his back, breathing through the mouth, accepting the cloth without a fight.  There are movies of this: they are apparently quite striking, and should be on YouTube. I talked to a prof who showed these movies to students in a class at an Ivy league university: they really, really hated it.  They should emigrate to a different reality – one of those probability lines outside the Blight, full of butt-kicking pixies,  avuncular gay men, Melanesian super-hackers,  and female Fields medalists.  And unicorns.

Later, he looked at Navaho babies: they’re like Chinese, only more so.

Japanese babies are like Chinese, but less so: more irritable, but not as irritable as white kids.














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59 Responses to Dan Freedman’s babies

  1. Hallie Scott Kline says:

    Fascinating. Is there an explanation for the behavior of the Navajo babies? Do you think it’s their Asian ancestry, or some other reason?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Ancestry, but originally shaped by selection. Probably for behavior in later life – the differences in neonates are probably a side effect of that.

      • anonymous says:

        As for the “more so” part … selective impact of cradleboarding (which would seem to select for tractability under confinement) should be considered.

        Makes infants more portable when mobility is of the essence.



      • Sideways says:

        And what, anon, you’re going to kill your baby if he gets upset at how you carry him? I think you have the arrow backwards.

      • anonymous says:

        Amongst the Navajo, the child is generally let out once it begins to fret. Infants that find the binding less tolerable would A be forced to endure greater psychological-physiological strain while being carried around (which would be considerable, especially in more purely nomadic circumstances) and B more frequently let down amongst whatever conditions the mother is at work in (e.g., food gathering).

        Well … interestingly, amongst the Apache, it would seem that the transition to sedentary life actually came with greater time in the cradleboard and disuse of folk customs promoting early walking.

      • anonymous1 says:

        James Chisholm of Rutgers University, who has studied infancy among the Nava[j]o over the past several years, reports that his observations are much like my own. in addition, he followed a group of young Caucasian mothers in Flagstaff (some 80 miles south of the reservation) who had decided to use the cradleboard. Their babies complained so persistently that they were off the board in a matter of weeks, a result that should not surprise us, given the differences observed at birth.

      • gcochran9 says:

        My daughter Ginny had neonatal jaundice, probably because of the altitude in Colorado Springs and being born a little premature. They put her under the lights, wearing protective goggles. Even though she had an IV in one hand, she managed to get those goggles off, when only a couple of days old. She wanted to see.

  2. Drive-By Poster says:

    I thought you might be hinting at EDAR being the cause, so I looked at a map of its distribution and Japan doesn’t stand out, although it’s still plausible. There’s quite a bit of variation in and around China, but I don’t know which areas the Chinese babies originated from and which areas are most Han. The pie chart sitting on Navajo country definitely fits. Not a bad first guess, and much less groanworthy than the armchair speculation on preferred cup size, lactation, perspiration, and diet.

    The paper: http://www.picb.ac.cn/picb-dynamic/admin/pic/Cell-WSJ.pdf

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      but I don’t know which areas the Chinese babies originated from and which areas are most Han.

      The word Cantonese was mentioned. South Western. Guangdong, Guangxi, …

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        South Western

        Having looked at a map of China, I now think it is more like South Eastern China.

    • anonymous says:

      Japan has less of the East Eurasian/American-modal EDAR variant, due to Jomon (Ainu-like) admixture.

  3. James Thompson says:

    Ethnic differences in babies seem to be a closed chapter in the popular mind. Phil Rushton always said that there was a lot of Californian data available that no-one would publish. Who holds the film material, and how can one get to see it?

  4. Rob King says:

    Very interesting. Ok. so what is driving temperamental differences? My anthropology friend Helga Vierich is always telling me that African foragers will not accept inequality–e.g. slavery, and are non-violent. Perhaps several of the populations that left Africa–or moved to the sides of it– are rather different in this respect? Acceptance of inequity: “bending to the yoke” as you put it in 10000YE is pretty common now–but is not spread evenly across populations–at least I would assume it could not be?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Bushmen don’t spend all their spare time fighting, but their homicide rate for 1920-1955 was four times the average US rate. And they used to fight more, before state control: raids and feuds.

      • Rob King says:

        Ok. Scratch the non-violent part. What about the slavery bit? It can’t have escaped your attention that we in the west (and not just here) just love having a big fella to boss us about. Size=dominance is part of the language
        When they are not about we invent them: E.g. A big magic sky daddy to spank the naught boys and girls (e.g. the Abrahamic religions).
        Do the Bushmen do any of these things? (my guess would be no, but I am not an anthropologist)

  5. winestock says:

    So the cool kids saw, with their own eyes, evidence that the Blank Slate theory is false and “they really, really hated it.” And they saw this evidence in as high a prestige place as could exist under the current regime of taboos.

    Short of sentencing them to the granola mines of Portland, what would it take to make them believe their own lying eyes?

    • gcochran9 says:

      I don’t know. For most people, no set of facts and no argument would do it. Although a change in fashion would convert many of those. I think that a few people, exposed to overwhelming evidence, would become very upset, possibly to the point of what we used to call a mental breakdown.

  6. Wasisterizer says:


    • Drive-By Poster says:

      “Cross-Cultural Differences in Newborn Behavior”, eh? I knew it must’ve been the culture learned by the fetus while eavesdropping through the womb.

  7. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Those who believe that the Chinese are going to overthrow their oppressive, Communist, overlords anytime now have clearly not seen those movies.

  8. Show some imagination, Cochran, lest you just to racist conclusions.

    The moms culture penetrates the womb and infuses the baby via hormones in the moms blood, and the moms mitochondrial DNA carries the mark of her culture on to her baby. In fact, uterine environment + epigenetics can resolve most of the problems with your racist conclusion-jumping.

    The Cantonese moms are probably just embedded in a really calm and quiet culture for the 9 months of pregnancy, as anyone visiting southeast China will intuit.

  9. FredR says:

    Jerome Kagan talked about this research in his book “Galen’s Prophecy”. He even speculates a bit on how differences in population’s temperaments led to religious differences.

    • Kiwiguy says:

      Jason Malloy discussed “Kagan’s journey as a staunch environmentalist of the Skinner age, to a modern-day Gene Expressor” outlined in ‘William Wright’s ‘Born that Way” in an early GNXP post:

      “”For Kagan this faith [environmentalism] began to weaken in the early seventies, when he spent a year in Guatemala observing infants in a remote mountain village. The village children were of particular interest because of an unusually deprived first year of life that sprang from the Indians’ tradition. Local custom had the mothers isolating their children inside cramped dark huts for the first year, never allowing them outside, never playing with them, and almost never speaking to them. As a result, the children at the ages of one and two were observed to be unusually passive, quiet, and unresponsive. To Kagan, some appeared border-line retarded

      Setting to work, Kagan and his colleagues set up a controlled study in which the village kids were measured on a number of cognitive functions. Those results were then compared with a Guatemalan group raised in a more normal fashion near a city and with a group of middle-class American children. The three groups might roughly be termed under-stimulated, normally stimulated, and over-stimulated.

      The results showed that while the deprived village children measured lower in all tests in the first years, they tended to catch up as they grew older and their rearing setting became more similar to those of childhood everywhere- outdoor play, interaction with parents, with other children and so on. By eleven and twelve the Guatemalan children could be considered normally developed. This transformation was heartening to environmentalists like Kagan and to socially concerned individuals who placed hopes in intervention programs like Head Start which help underperforming children catch up with their age groups. Good behaviorist soldier that he was, Kagan wrote in an early paper on this study, “The data proves the potency of the environment.” Without hesitating he credited the good environment with remedying the effects of the bad.

      But the data he came to realize, could be seen in two ways. With the Guatemalan village children, there had been no intervention, no remedial program; they had merely been delivered from the negative environment of their first year, the dark hut. Something else seemed to be causing their improvement, and future evidence indicated it was their own normal development, in all likelihood their own genetic makeup triumphing over an adverse environment. Rather than the normal “outdoor” environment curing the negative effects of the grim first year, it may have merely allowed the child’s personality to unfold as its genome, or as “nature”, intended..

      “Shaken, perhaps [by the results of the Guatemalan study], but Kagan, like the rest of the psychological profession , continued to believe in the environment as the most important molder of personality. His epiphany came fifteen years later, when he was working in Boston on a longitudinal study of infants, observing them from seven to twenty-nine months, with the aim of assessing the effectiveness of day-care. The group was made up of fifty-three Chinese-American infants and sixty-three Caucasian children. Part of the entire group had from the age of four months attended an experimental day-care center set-up for the study, part had attended other day-care centers, and part had been raised at home.

      In the course of the experiment, Kagan noticed something unanticipated. The Chinese children, little more than babies, whether attending day-care or raised at home, were consistently more fearful and inhibited than the Caucasians. The differences were obvious. The Chinese children stayed close to their mothers and were quiet and generally apprehensive, while the Caucasians were talkative, active, and “prone to laughter”. These characteristics were confirmed by the mothers as typical of their children’s behavior at home as well. In addition, the researchers discovered that the Chinese tots had less variable heart rates than the Caucasians. Kagan could not avoid the clear evidence of an innate difference between the two groups of infants. It is ironic that this scientist’s conversion to a biological-genetic view came along the lines of racial differences. Kagan was a political liberal who only three years earlier had been one of the most vociferous critics of Arthur Jensen’s theories on the heritability of IQ, theories that he and most everyone else denounced as racist. Now he was publishing his observation of fundamental personality differences between racial groups. When we conversed in Harvard office many years later, I asked Kagan if there had been an uproar similar to the one Jensen provoked.

      He smiled. “We got no flak on the Chinese paper All the reports of the book were about our day-care findings. Everyone ignored the fact that the Chinese children were different. I think it was because they were Asians, and Asians do well. If they would have been black we probably would have gotten flak.”

      Asked if it was dismaying for him, an unwavering liberal, to observe inherent racial differences, Kagan snapped, “Nature doesn’t care what we want.” More reflectively, he added, “I wasn’t so much dismayed at my observations of the Chinese kids. . .I was a little bit saddened to see the power of biology.”

  10. I gave him a mention in my review of the Needham book. His wife was Chinese.

    But Greg, Greg: “the baby would lay on his back”? Lay what?

  11. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:
  12. Matt says:

    On dogs and early development, I wonder if this would be relevant -


    “Dogs and wolves are genetically so similar, it’s been difficult for biologists to understand why wolves remain fiercely wild, while dogs can gladly become “man’s best friend.” Now, doctoral research by evolutionary biologist Kathryn Lord at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the different behaviors are related to the animals’ earliest sensory experiences and the critical period of socialization …

    Scientists already know there are significant differences in early development between wolf and dog pups, chief among them timing of the ability to walk, she adds.

    To address this knowledge gap, she studied responses of seven wolf pups and 43 dogs to both familiar and new smells, sounds and visual stimuli, tested them weekly, and found they did develop their senses at the same time. But her study also revealed new information about how the two subspecies of Canis lupus experience their environment during a four-week developmental window called the critical period of socialization, and the new facts may significantly change understanding of wolf and dog development.

    When the socialization window is open, wolf and dog pups begin walking and exploring without fear and will retain familiarity throughout their lives with those things they contact. Domestic dogs can be introduced to humans, horses and even cats at this stage and be comfortable with them forever. But as the period progresses, fear increases and after the window closes, new sights, sounds and smells will elicit a fear response.
    wolf pups and dogs develop the sense of smell at age two weeks, hearing at four weeks and vision by age six weeks on average. However, these two subspecies enter the critical period of socialization at different ages. Dogs begin the period at four weeks, while wolves begin at two weeks.

    wolf pups are still blind and deaf when they begin to walk and explore their environment at age two weeks. “No one knew this about wolves, that when they begin exploring they’re blind and deaf and rely primarily on smell at this stage, so this is very exciting,” she notes.

    She adds, “When wolf pups first start to hear, they are frightened of the new sounds initially, and when they first start to see they are also initially afraid of new visual stimuli. As each sense engages, wolf pups experience a new round of sensory shocks that dog puppies do not.”

    Meanwhile, dog pups only begin to explore and walk after all three senses, smell, hearing and sight, are functioning

    Human development is probably quite different, but it does make me wonder whether this is due to a temperamental difference (“irritable”) or a difference in the tempo of development of sensing and motor abilities. See no evil…?

    Of course, this could have temperamental implications – if you want an end result of certain kinds of passivity and trust, or arrogant fearlessness (how are those Yanomani babies doing, I wonder?), then dampening senses during a period of vulnerability when fear responses might be learned would make a certain kind of sense. People in comas (or non-REM sleep) don’t (unless there’s any indication to the contrary) really learn to be scared of things. That might be one way to skin that particular cat, if that were deemed desirable.

  13. SVK says:

    The Morioris of the Chatham Islands are said to have killed babies who cried. Selection for later team work stalking albatross, seals? and co-existing on what feels like a land on the edge. The place abounded in such food but is grimly austere and trad Polynesian crops won’t grow.

    The protocol of minimal violence developed by the Moriori (Nunuku’s Law) is now the kernel of a peace tourism business run by the remnant islanders who have some Moriori blood, and some who don’t.
    There were several young idealistic young Europeans on my tour, who had made the long trek, and it ain’t cheap getting there.
    The pacifism failed with the invading Maori in 1835, who didn’t seem to ‘get’ the concept.
    But who can blame them for claiming some back-dated moral high ground.

    • Sarkoboros says:

      Among the Volga Bulgars, Ibn Fadlan found a strange custom: When they observe a man who excels through quickwittedness and knowledge, they say: ‘for this one it is more befitting to serve our Lord’. They seize him, put a rope round his neck and hang him on a tree where he is left until he rots away . . .

      • g2-337af867fe9cd20258bdbc586fbefd0d says:

        Ibn Fadlan escaped by the skin of his teeth and went on to describe the strange customs of Khazar haredim.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “The protocol of minimal violence developed by the Moriori (Nunuku’s Law)”

      This ties into an earlier argument about whether harsh food-getting environments (where raiding isn’t a compensatory option) are likely to develop lower average levels of violence relative to groups at a similar developmental level.

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  15. nooffensebut says:

    Here’s an interesting new study on warrior-gene babies at 5 weeks. However, the warrior gene is somewhat more common in the Chinese than whites (but not to the extent that Steven Pinker falsely reported).

  16. A Erickson Cornish says:

    Page 228 here is pure comedic gold: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=7Qw2vBWgZU4C&oi=fnd&pg=PA221&dq=daniel+AROUND%282%29+freedman+AND+infants&ots=N2rFBruqDn&sig=Nzns0dx3jFxEEcVJJWXcNbp5CuA#v=onepage&q=daniel%20AROUND(2)%20freedman%20AND%20infants&f=false.

    Observing a trait that is considered favorable at high levels in a population, almost certainly as a result of that population’s genetic makeup, and wrongly attributing it to the salubrious effects of… communism. I submit this for the ‘how to sum up modern Western literary intellectuals in one anecdote’ contest, should one exist.

  17. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    The conclusion is interesting:

    Given these data, I think it is a reasonable conclusion that we should drop two long cherished myths (I) No matter what our ethnic backgrounds, we are all born alike; (2) culture and biology are separate entities.

  18. misdreavus says:

    By the way, Dr. Cochran, you might be interested in learning that this wisdom has permeated mainstream psychology textbooks. I discovered this myself, long before reading this post, when I once audited a course on developmental psychology.

    From Invitation to the Life Span by Kathleen Berger:

    Cultural differences may originate from temperamental differences in the strength
    of various reflexes.
    For instance, some researchers report that reflexive thrashing and
    crying when a cloth covers the face are typical for European infants but not Chinese
    ones, who often will simply turn their heads to escape the cloth. In general, Chinese
    infants are less active than European babies in their reflexive responses; it is not
    known whether the difference is primarily genetic or environmental. Some alleles
    are more common among Chinese infants
    , but prenatal care, birth practices, diet, and
    early postnatal care differ as well (Kagan & Snidman, 2004).

    They still haven’t quite given up the foolish notion that parenting has any sort of long-term effect on adult cognition or personality. But bless me, at least they’re trying.

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  24. Dean D says:

    This is scary, imagine in wars, If you send the Chinese to fight and die, they willingly go into battle without questioning, but willingly adapting, they willingly accept being cannon folders or die for certain causes, while the Caucasians will question is what I am doing really worth sacrificing myself over? That also explains why the tendency towards individualism vs collectivism in Western and Eastern cultures. Perhaps the discrepancy in Warrior genes also play a part?

  25. I’m not sure that the conclusion to take from this is that Chinese will selflessly throw themselves into a meat-grinder. In recent history, caucasians have front-lined more. Compare the reactions of the Americans and the Chinese during WWII to the Japanese.

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  27. Hayrick says:

    Evidently Australian aboriginal babies have nothing to worry about – they are tough.
    I would observe that behaviour at birth has nothing to do with the later development of the mind and ability to learn and understand – Asians are clearly ahead there. They are more prepared to listen and not ‘spit the dummy’.

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