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Conceptual Development.docx

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University of British Columbia
PSYC 302

Conceptual Development Concepts • General ideas or understandings that can be used to group together objects, events, qualities, or abstraction that are similar in some way • Crucial for helping people make sense of the world Perspectives on Concepts • Nativists argue that innate understanding of concepts plays a central role in development. • Empiricists argue that concepts arise from basic learning mechanisms. I. Understanding Who or What • Dividing the objects children encounter in the world into categories helps children answer two questions o What kinds of things are there in the world? o How are those things related to each other A. Dividing Objects into Categories • Beginning early in development, children attempt to understand what kinds of things there are in the world by dividing the objects they perceives in three general categories: o Inanimate objects o People o Living things • Amajor way in which children form categories to figure out how things in the word are related to one another is by dividing objects into category hierarchies (i.e., categories related by set-subset relations) Categorization of Objects in Infancy • Infants form categories of objects in the first months of life. • Akey element in infants’thinking is perceptual categorization, the grouping together of objects that have similar appearances o Infants categorize objects along many perceptual dimensions, including color, size, and movement o Often their categorizations are based on parts of parts of objects rather than on the object as a whole • As children approach their second birthday, they increasingly categorize objects on the basis of overall shape • At the same time, they also form categories on the basis of function, and can use their knowledge of categories to determine which actions go with which type of objects Categorization of Objects Beyond Infancy • As children move beyond infancy, their ability to categorize expands greatly. • Two of the most important trends o Increasing understanding of category hierarchies o Increasing understanding of casual connections  Both involve knowledge of relations among categories Category Hierarchies • Often include three main levels: o Ageneral one, the superordinate level o Avery specific one, the subordinate level o One in between, the basic level • Children usually learn the basic level category first, o Because objects at this level share many common characteristics (unlike superordinate level categories) o Because category members are relatively easy to discriminate (unlike those in a subordinate level categories) • Children sometimes form child-basic categories whose generality is somewhere between basic and subordinate level categories (“things that roll” instead of “balls”) • Children use what they know about basic level categories to form superordinate and subordinate categories with the assistance of adults Causal Understanding and Categorization • Understanding causal relations – why objects are the way they are – helps children learn and remember new categories o Hearing that “wugs” are well prepared to fight and “gillies” to flee, helped preschoolers categorize novel pictures like these as “wugs” or “gillies.” B. Knowledge of Other People and Oneself • Children as young as 3 have a naïve psychology, a commonsense level of understanding of other people and oneself • At the center of naive psychology are two concepts that people commonly use to understand human behavior: o Desires o Beliefs Three Properties of Naïve Psychological Concepts 1. They refer to invisible mental states 2. The concepts are all linked to each other in cause-effect relations 3. They develop early in life 1. Infants’Naive Psychology • Infants think about other people in terms of invisible constructs by 1 year of age and possibly earlier • In the first half of the second year, toddlers begin to show a grasp of several ideas that are crucial for psychological understanding: o Intention: the goal of acting in a certain way o Joint attention: in which two or more people focus deliberately on the same referent o Intersubjectivity: the mutual understanding that people share during communication 2. Development Beyond Infancy • Atheory of mind is a well-organized understanding of how the mind works and how it influences behavior. o Two-year-olds: understand the connection between other people’s desires and their specific actions, but show little understanding that beliefs are also influential o Three-year-olds: understand that desires and beliefs affect behavior, but have difficulty with false-belief problems (i.e., tasks that test a child’s understanding that other people will act in accord with their own beliefs even when the child knows that these beliefs are incorrect) o Five-year-olds: find false-belief problems very easy Explaining the Development of Theory of Mind 1. There is a theory-of-mind module (TOMM), a hypothesized brain mechanism devoted to understanding other human beings 2. Interactions with other people are crucial for developing theory of mind. 3. General information-processing skills are necessary for children to understand people’s minds. • All three explanations have merit Infant attention to intentional action predicts preschool theory of mind • 45 children were studied at 10 months and then again as 4-year olds • Measured infant social attention (habituation rate) • Social attention significantly predicted later theory of mind (false-belief understanding) • The association remained significant even when IQ, verbal competence, and executive function were controlled • Findings provide support for continuity in social cognition separable from continuities in more general information processing The Growth of Play • Pretend play: Make-believe activities in which children create new symbolic relations, emerges at about 18 months of age o Includes object substitution, a form of pretense in which an object is used as something other than itself • Sociodramatic play: Activities in which children enact mini dramas with other children or adults, emerges at about 30 months. o Young children’s make-believe play not only reflects their understanding of other people’s psychological functioning but can also cause increases in such understanding Distinguishing People from Nonliving Things • Task used by Poulin-Dubois (1999) to study infants’reactions when they see people and inanimate objects (in this case a robot) engaging in the same action. • Both 9- and 12-month-olds show surprise when they see inanimate objects move on their own, suggesting that they understand that self-produced motion is a distinctive characteristic of people and other animals. How Do Children Acquire Biological Knowledge? • Nativists and empiricists have very different ideas regarding the growth of children’s biological standing. o Nativists: people are born with a biology module o Empiricists: children’s biological understanding comes from their personal observations and from information they receive from other people and from other people and
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