© 2019 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved
What goes on in baby’s head? How do children perceive the world? Learn new skills? What can adults do to help children thrive?
I look for answers that cut across academic disciplines, because we can’t hope to understand child development – or families – without taking in the big picture.
So for more than 12 years, I have delved into a broad range of fields — anthropology, evolutionary biology, psychology, epigenetics, neuroscience, and zoology. I have read the original research, analyzed study designs, communicated with study authors, and evaluated the quality of the evidence. And I have put all my training and experience to work.
Credentials and publications
A graduate of UC Berkeley, I received my Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where I was trained in evolutionary anthropology, behavioral ecology, primatology, and comparative psychology.
My research interests – in the evolution of the mind, learning, and teaching – led me to study comparative cognitive development and the evolution of parenting. They also led me to design and execute experiments; publish in peer-reviewed journals; and serve as a peer reviewer myself. I know how to read and dissect a scientific study.
Since 2006, I have been popularizing research of interest to parents and educators. This website, Parenting Science, is the biggest component of that work.
Parenting Science has been praised by researchers, and hailed by Education World as a “fantastic aid for parents and educators” for its “in depth and objective analysis” and “well balanced and fair perspective.”
My Parenting Science articles have been assigned as required reading in college courses, cited by the popular press, and reprinted by educational publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson Canada, and TC Media Livres.
In addition, I have written hundreds of articles for other outlets and organizations. Here is a sampling of some of that work online:
- “Parents have always been subsidized” (Psychology Today)
- “Empathy and kindness: Early developmental milestones” (The Urban Child Institute)
- “Difficult babies can become super kids” (BabyCenter)
- “Learning by doing” (The North American Association for Environmental Education)
- “Why do we want to bite cute things, like adorable newborn babies?” (Scientific American)
Why did I start Parenting Science?
When I became a new parent, I was hungry for scientifically-savvy information about child-rearing. I knew, from my academic experiences, that there was excellent research out there.
But when I looked in popular parenting resources — in advice books, magazines, and pamphlets — what I found instead were a lot of opinions and unsupported claims. No rigorous analysis. No citations of peer-reviewed research. And little or no awareness of the big picture — of parenting from a cross-cultural, evolutionary perspective.
So that was the inspiration for Parenting Science. I created it for people like me — science-minded parents who wanted to wanted to understand the big picture.
You might be a scientist, physician, or teacher. Maybe you’re an educated, skeptical layperson who loves science. Whatever the case, you don’t need a sermon. You don’t need authoritarian pronouncements. You need a guide to the best available evidence — fully-referenced so you know where to go if you want to dig deeper yourself.
Does my background influence the way I approach parenting?
When I think about babies, for instance, I think about how babies and parents have interacted over millions of years. I think of chimpanzee infants riding their mothers’ backs. I think of the many hours that nonhuman primates spend each day touching and grooming each other. I think of modern hunter-gatherers, and what their lifestyles might (or might not) reveal about our ancestors’ parenting practices.
I think of the wide range of parenting styles that humans have developed throughout the world, and I know that the parenting practices associated with my culture–the 21st century, English-speaking West–are neither universal nor biologically-determined.
More generally, my scientific training has reinforced my natural skepticism. When I go to the doctor, I need to know what evidence supports the doctor’s advice. And I approach parenting the same way.
I question practices that are justified merely because they are traditional. I listen to my instincts, but I also check these instincts against what we are learning about the brain, child development, and the flexibility of the human species. So I suppose my own parenting style might be called “evidence-based, rational, attachment parenting.”