Q&A with "People Watcher" and behaviour expert Desmond Morris: please post your questions here

(59 Posts)
HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 01-Nov-10 13:44:49

We're delighted to welcome zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris to Mumsnet for a Q&A session.

Desmond is the author of many bestselling books on human and animal behaviour, including People Watching, Naked Ape and Babywatching.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Desmond caused some controversy by saying he thinks TV is as good for toddlers as books.

Desmond's latest book, Child: How Children think, learn and grow in the early years explores the world of children from the ages of two to five, as they emerge from toddlerdom and start out on the long road to independence. Age-by-stage profiles describe growth patterns, social and emotional behavior, physical and cognitive skills.  

Please post your questions to Desmond on this thread before the end of Friday 5th November, and we'll post up his answers the following week.

My question: tell us of a time when the beliefs/assumptions that you grew up with were really dramatically challenged or changed. Did this make you question other beliefs that you had previously taken for granted?

jonicomelately Mon 01-Nov-10 14:59:28

I don't know whether this is off-topic but I'd love Desmond to explain competitive mothers to me. What makes perfectly ordinary women go mental develop such traits once they have children?

Thank you.

LeninGhoul Mon 01-Nov-10 15:53:23

Why do some children develop fears and phobias and how should you deal with it?

DS1 had fears about noise and all sorts which peaked at three. We dealt with it with a mixture of empathy, reassurance, avoidance and just gritting our teeth and getting on with it at times.

Would be interested to hear why some go through this and others not. And most importantly, what does it mean for their future development if anything?

asdx2 Mon 01-Nov-10 17:12:55

Do you have any explanations for autistic behaviours such as lack of eye contact, flapping and spinning?
Are these behaviours displayed in the animal world and what are the consequences?

longgrasswhispers Mon 01-Nov-10 17:51:51

I'd just like to know how to foster confidence and self-belief in a child, no matter what his/her ability and circumstances. How to give them the tools to stand up for themselves as adults and to minimise the possibility of them have any crippling self-esteem issues.....

jonicomelately Mon 01-Nov-10 19:52:57

Great question longgrasswhispers. I'll be interested in the answer to that one.

edam Mon 01-Nov-10 20:01:09

What's your take on evolutionary biology and claims that male and female characteristics and roles are pre-ordained and innate rather than a social construct?

(E.g. that daft study that said girls like pink because in hunter-gatherer days they would have searched for red berries - researchers didn't bother to check whether 'pink is for girls' held true over time, which it doesn't.)

What do you think of Elaine Morgan and The Descent of Woman? Do you agree that evolutionary theorists had missed a trick by not thinking about evolution and the female of the species?

Also interested in your take on How Babies Think - a book that I really enjoyed because it's not written in that terrible patronising expert-talking-down-to-mothers manner.

Octaviapink Mon 01-Nov-10 20:25:00

I'd be interested in the divide between evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists that seems to be growing, and the neuroscience claim that new theories about neuroplasticity are turning evolutionary psychologists into dinosaurs.

LeninGuy Mon 01-Nov-10 20:42:01

edam, can you tell me anymore about The Descent of Woman please, sounds interesting.

LeninGuy Mon 01-Nov-10 20:50:47
wannabeglam Mon 01-Nov-10 21:11:57

How do you deal with 7, 8, 9 year olds. Not much info out there about them, loads about babies and toddlers.

edam Mon 01-Nov-10 22:17:37

Hey Lenin, sorry was off doing stuff. Glad you found more info on Elaine. I came across her book on my mother's shelves when I was a teenager (mother's degree is in zoology) and it was a blinding flash of realisation that everything I'd read about evolution was from a male point of view - women were only mentioned as extras and our evolution only mentioned in terms of developing characteristics that appealed to men.

No idea whether the aquatic ape theory is correct or not, don't know enough about evolutionary theory to judge. But thought it would be interesting to ask Desmond.

And whether or not she's right about the aquatic ape, she is damn right that evolutionary theorists at the point when she wrote her first book had forgotten that the human race is not entirely male. It's that old problem of people - men but women too - assuming that the default human is a male.

Sadly evolutionary biology seems to have swung back and become even more gendered in the past couple of decades, certainly from whatever parts of it make it into mainstream discourse in the lay press.

She's also a very fine screenwriter. Her series on Lloyd George was especially moving (And explained why my Dad sang 'my mother knew Lloyd George occasionally in the bath', being Welsh and all. Although I'm sure my Granny didn't. grin).

LeninGuido Mon 01-Nov-10 22:20:30

Thanks, very interesting, will look for it at the library.

DeborahDeborah Mon 01-Nov-10 22:27:41

I don't have a question but a massive THANK YOU!

Babywatching is an incredible book.

I read it whilst I was pregnant with my first child and it really guided me in having a calm labour and understanding what my baby needed (rather than what society thought babies needed!)

It helped to back up all my instinctive desires to pick up/ be close to my baby and in doing so my children thrived and did not become clingy as some strict routines predicted.

I can't thank you enough x

TheCrackFox Mon 01-Nov-10 22:40:08

Edam, have you read "Can any Mother Help Me"?. Is Elaine one of the women featured in it, it seems to ring a bell but I have given my copy away so can't refer.

edam Mon 01-Nov-10 22:43:21

No, I haven't, but wouldn't that be too early for Elaine Morgan anyway? (Have a vague idea it's 1950s or earlier but could be wrong about that.)

Al1son Mon 01-Nov-10 22:46:37

Are we right to put our children in playground situations for at least an hour of each school day and leave them largely unsupervised and vulnerable to barbaric behaviour which includes turning on and abusing the weakest member of the group?

Are the survival skills these children are expected to learn in this unnatural situation really going to be of the great benefit in later life we are led to believe or are we just herding children into potentially damaging situations for our own convenience?

TheCrackFox Mon 01-Nov-10 22:53:51

Edam, I have just googled her and she was born in 1920 and I am absolutely convinced it is her. I loved that book, I found her incredibly inspiring, I might just treat myself to an early Christmas present and buy "The Descent of Woman".

{sorry for hi-jack folks]

LeninGuido Mon 01-Nov-10 22:55:35

Indeed Al1son, I read the opening section to the book and it mentions how nurseries are group environments and that is good for kids as that's needed for development. But kids in other communities or in the past were raised in mixed-age settings and there are/ were often adults around.

edam Mon 01-Nov-10 23:06:37

Ooh, that's interesting, CrackFox. Haven't read Can Any Mother but have wanted to, thanks for reminding me and giving me an extra reason.

Al1son Tue 02-Nov-10 08:36:01

LeninGuido I definitely see benefit of the social environment to children's learning (there's masses of theory to back it up) but not in the context of the playground where so many children of the same age are herded together and left to torment each other. Like you say the mixed social environments of the past or in other countries seem me to be more natural and supportive of children's well-being.

Miggsie Tue 02-Nov-10 10:35:28

I'd love to know if Desmond sees very large schools as unnatural environments for young people to grow up in? Are large schools good or bad for emotional development?

We see a lot of comments on MN about the smaller class sizes...is it natural to herd great groups of people about simply becuase they are the same age?

lucysnowe Tue 02-Nov-10 15:47:59

Desmond, do you really think that men become gay because of something stunting their hormones at puberty - as this link suggests?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-501005/Wha t-makes-people-gay-straight-Desmond-Morris.html

BoffinMum Tue 02-Nov-10 18:14:44

Two questions that have been bugging me for years:

Why do toddlers stand so near the telly when they are watching it?

Is smacking a normal mammalian behaviour?

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