Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology has an excellent post that examines recent research on differences in the way adults versus young children process sensory information. Downey looks at two recent studies suggesting that children "use only one sense at a time to judge the world around them, while adults integrate the sensory experience through as series of "compromises or syntheses."
Downey goes on to make another very interesting point. He notes the "tendency to see child development in a teleological framework, that is, as an incomplete version of an adult system rather than as a deployment of the child’s distinctive neural resources."
Downey points out that this view can obscure our understanding of what is really occurring:
"[E]ven on the level of the individual organism’s development, we find that early stages are not determined by the ‘goal’ or ‘endpoint’ of development, but are rather configurations that make the best use of existing perceptual resources.
"In other words, kids’ perceptual systems are not just forerunners of adult systems, they are adaptations to the sensory situation of the child, including basic instabilities generated by growth or organic maturation themselves.
"As with evolutionary thinking, the pitfall of teleological thinking — assuming that ‘early stages are leading up to later ones’ — seems to threaten how we understand children’s sensory development. Perhaps this is one of the other dangers of not recognizing how the human nervous system (like other mammals’) is a dynamic system, achieving some sort of stability and predictability at each stage of development, rather than just an ‘adult under construction.’ Children come to different sorts of sensory solutions, not because they are becoming adults slowly, but because they are doing the best they can with the brains that they have." Read the entire post...