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[PSYC 251] - Final Exam Guide - Comprehensive Notes for the exam (29 pages long!)


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSYC 251
Professor
Stanka A Fitneva
Study Guide
Final

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Queen's
PSYC 251
FINAL EXAM
STUDY GUIDE

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PSYC 251 – WEEK 3 ONLINE NOTES
Infancy
Infancy is a period of remarkable transformations. At birth, infants go from breathing
fluid, being intravenously fed and isolated in the womb to breathing air, digesting food,
and interacting with other human beings. In their first two years of life, infants will
continue to undergo other radical changes and acquire amazing new abilities. After the
initial transition from the womb, perhaps the most important new abilities are the ability
to control one’s motor behavior, the ability to understand and generate language, and the
ability to conceive of oneself as an independent entity (i.e., the development of the self
concept). The latter two abilities are discussed in later chapters. The ability to reach,
grasp, and walk, on which Chapter 5 focuses, allow infants to become much more active
participants in their own development. They also provide new opportunities for
exploration that are not available when the infant depends on adults for moving from
one place to another.
Studying Infants
Systematic and intentional behaviours are poorly developed in young infants. Unlike
adults or older children, infants cannot use words to tell researchers what they know.
They are also unable to use fine motor movements (like reaching and grasping) to
communicate with those around them. As a result, psychologists must be creative in
developing approaches to study what infants know about the world. The following
paragraphs summarize a few of the most common methodologies used by psychologists
to study infant development.
Habituation
Habituation is a simple form of learning that involves a decreased response to a stimulus
that is repeated or continued. For example, if you stand beside an infant and clap your
hands, the infant will likely turn towards you, and his or her heart rate will likely decrease
(A decrease in heart rate is a sign of interest). If you continue to clap your hands every
few seconds, the head-turning will eventually stop and the baby’s heart rate will return to
normal. This occurs as the baby becomes ‘habituated’ to your behaviour. Habituation can
only occur if the baby is able to remember the stimulus (in this example, the clapping)
over time. Therefore, habituation is evidence for very basic forms of learning and
memory. After an infant has habituated to a given stimulus, if a novel stimulus is then
presented, dishabituation will occur. For example, if you ring a bell beside the baby that
habituated to hearing you clap your hands, the head-turning and decrease in heart rate
will be reinstated.
A common use for this paradigm is to determine what kinds of perceptual stimuli babies
can discriminate amongst. For example, a researcher may repeatedly present a baby with
some stimulus (e.g. a sound) until he or she becomes habituated to it. The researcher can
then present the baby with a slightly different stimulus (e.g. a novel sound). If the baby
does not dishabituate to this new stimulus, researchers can infer that the baby was unable
to discriminate between the two stimuli.
Violation of Expectancy Procedure
This methodology relies on the assumption that infants who witnesses an event that
violates something they know to be true about the world will be surprised, or at least
show interest in that event. In these paradigms, infants are often first habituated to a
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given event to familiarize them with the stimuli. Then the scene is changed slightly so
that the infants see either an expected or an unexpected event. Researchers look to see
whether infants’ reactions to the two events (expected and unexpected) differ. The
interest evoked by the unexpected event should manifest itself in an observable response
that can be measured and compared to infants’ responses to the expected event.
Common measured responses are looking time and changes in heart rate.
Researchers have used this paradigm to examine a number of infant characteristics and
abilities, including whether they can mentally represent objects that are out of sight, and
whether they understand basic physical principles. See pages 207-209 of your textbook
for examples of such studies. Variations of this technique have also been used to study
children’s social knowledge. In these studies, children are shown events that are either
likely or unlikely according to a social principle or rule. (For example, one social principle
that has been examined in such studies is the principle that individuals are more likely to
avoid someone who was mean to them in the past, and approach someone who was
helpful to them). If infants pay more attention to events where a social principle is
violated, there is evidence to suggest that they have an understanding of that principle.
Dr. Valerie Kuhlmeier of Queen’s University is involved in studies of this nature.
Preferential Looking Procedures
In preferential looking paradigms, different visual stimuli are typically displayed on two
screens that are side-by-side in an infant’s field of vision. Researchers measure the
amount of time the infants spend looking at each of the stimuli. If infants are found to
look longer at one of the two stimuli, researchers can infer that (1) the infants are able to
discriminate between them and (2) they have a preference for one over the other. This
methodology is very helpful for studying infants’ perception. Can you identify studies in
Chapter 5 that implement this research technique?
Instrumental Learning and Contingency Studies
Instrumental conditioning (also referred to as operant conditioning) involves learning the
relation between one’s own behaviour and the outcome that results. Infants can learn
that their own behaviours are related to or associated with particular outcomes. In other
words, they can learn that a given event in their environment is contingent upon their
own actions. Generally speaking, when a behaviour is reliably followed by a reward, the
likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated increases. Researchers can gain insight into
what infants prefer by establishing contingencies between infants’ behaviour and given
outcomes, and observing how infants react to those contingencies.
The most prominent example of instrumental learning involves sucking – one of the few
behaviors infants can control at birth. Here, researchers teach infants that sucking fast on
a pacifier will result in them hearing one set of sounds (A), while sucking slow will cause
them to hear a different set of sounds (B). (Note, in these studies, half the children who
participate experience the opposite set of contingencies; they hear A when they suck
slowly and B when they suck fast.) By examining whether the infants chose to suck fast
or slow, researchers are able to determine what types of sounds infants prefer to listen
to.
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