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Unit 5.docx

Course Code
PSYC 251
Stanka A Fitneva

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Unit 5: Children’s Ideas
Chapter 7: Conceptual Development
- concepts: general ideas or understandings that can be used to group together objects, events, qualities, or abstractions
that are similar in some way
- concepts help understand the world & act effectively in it by allowing us to generalize from prior experience
ie. like the taste of one carrot, probably will like taste of others
- concepts also tell us how to react emotionally to new experiences
ie. fearing all dogs after being bitten by one
- nativist vs. empiricist debate on conceptual development
- nativists – innate understanding of basic concepts plays a central role in development
argue that infants born w/ some sense of fundamental concepts such as time, space, causality, number & human
mind, or w/ specialized learning mechanisms that allow them to acquire rudimentary understanding of these
concepts unusually quickly & easily
nurture is important to children’s developing the concepts beyond this initial level, but not for forming the initial
- empiricists –infants born w/ only general learning mechanisms (abilityto perceive, associate, generalize & remember)
the rapid & universal formation of fundamental concepts (time, space, causality, number & mind) arisesfrom
exposure to experiences relevant tothese concepts
- the continuing debate b/w nativists & empiricists reflects a fundamental, unresolved question about human nature:
Do children form all concepts through the same learning mechanisms, or do they also possess special mechanisms
for forming a few particularly important concepts?
Understanding Who or What
- to begin to understand the objects they encounter, children must answer 2 key questions:
1. what kinds of things are there in the world?
2. how are these things related to each other?
Dividing Objects Into Categories
- children attempt to understand what kinds of things there are in the world
- start by dividing objects they perceive into the 3 most general categories:
1. inanimate objects
2. people
3. other living things
- forming these broad divisions is crucial, bc. different types of concepts apply to different types of objects
some concepts apply to anything—all things, both living & nonliving, have heights, weights, colors, sizes, etc.
other concepts apply only to living things—only living things eat, drink, grow & breathe, for example
yet other concepts—reading, shopping, pondering & talking—apply to people
- these 3 categorical distinctions are important bc. they help children make accurate inferences about unfamiliar objects
- children form category hierarchies (categories that are related by set–subset relations, ie. animal/dog/poodle)
Categorization of Objects in Infancy
- first months -> infants form categories of objects

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- 3 & 4-month-olds shown photographs of different cats; habituated (looked at new cat photographs for decreasing time)
- 6 month-olds -> displayed similar brain activity when shown pictures of various cats, whereas brain activity in response
to pictures of unfamiliar dogs differed from activity to both sets of cats
- infants also can form categories more general than “cats.
study found 6-month-olds habituated after repeatedly being shown pictures of different types of mammals, then
dishabituated when shown a picture of bird or fish; infants apparently perceived similarities among the mammals
key element in infants’ categorization is perceptual categorization
- perceptual categorization: the grouping together of objects w/ similar appearances
- infants categorize objects on many perceptual dimensions (color, size, movement)
categorization largely based on specific parts of an object rather than object as a whole
ie. infants younger than 18 months rely heavily on presence of legs to categorize objects as animals & rely heavily
on presence of wheels to categorize objects as vehicles
- 2nd birthday -> increasingly categorize objects on the basis of overall shape
- by end of 1st year -> infants also form categories based on objects’ functions
Categorization of Objects Beyond Infancy
Category Hierarchies
- 3 main catergory hierarchy levels:
1. superordinate level: most general level
oie. “plant”
2. subordinate level: most specific level
oie. “oak”
3. basic level: the middle/in-b/w level & usually first level learned
oie. “tree”
- typically form categories of medium generality “tree”, before forming more general categories “plant” or more specific
ones “oak”
- basic-level category “tree” has a number of consistent characteristics (bark, branches, large size)
- in contrast, the more general category “plant” has fewer consistent characteristics (come in a wide range of shapes, sizes,
- subordinate-level categories have the same consistent characteristics as the basic-level category & some additional ones
ie. all oaks, but not all trees, have rough bark & pointed leaves
- however, it is relatively difficult to discriminate among different subordinate categories w/in the same basic-level
ie. oaks vs. maples
- parents & others use the child’s basic-level categories as a foundation for explaining the more specific & more general
when parents teach children superordinate categories such as mammals, they typically illustrate the relevant terms
w/ basic-level examples that the child already knows
ie. “mammals are animals, like foxes, bears & cows, that get milk from mothers when theyre babies”
parents also refer to basic-level categories to teach children subordinate-level terms
Causal Understanding & Categorization
- understanding causal relations is crucial in forming many categories
- understanding cause–effect relations helps children learn & remember new categories

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- preschoolers’ questions about causes & reasons show they understand that different categories of objects (ie. artifacts &
animals) vary in the types of causal relations in which they are typically involved
artifacts usually are designed for specific purposes
animals are not made for any human purpose
questions 3 & 4-year-olds ask about artifacts & animals show they understand these categorical differences
Knowledge of Other People & Oneself
- naïve psychology: a commonsense level of psychological understanding of others & oneself, basically everyone has
- 2 concepts central to naïve psychology:
1. desires
2. beliefs
- 3 noteworthy properties of naïve psychological concepts
1. invisible mental states – no one can see a desire, belief, perception or memory
owe can see behaviors related to psychological concepts, but can only infer the underlying mental state
2. concepts are all linked to each other in cause–effect relations
oie. Jimmy might get angry if friend went to other friend’s house; may cause Jimmy to be mean to brother
3. these naïve psychological concepts develop early in life
- nativists & empiricists disagree regarding source of this early psychological understanding:
nativists argue early understanding is possible only bc. children are born w/ innate basic understanding of human
empiricists argue experiences w/ others & general information-processing capacities are the key sources of the
early understanding of other people
Infants’ Naïve Psychology
- infants’ early interest in human faces & bodies helps infants learn about people’s behavior. Imitating other people &
forming emotional bonds w/ them encourages other people to interact more w/ the infants, creating additional
opportunities for the infants to acquire psychological understanding
- many important aspects of psychological understanding emerge late in the first year & early in the second. One is an
understanding of intention, the desire to act in a certain way
- other key psychological concepts that emerge at this time include: joint attention (two or more people focus intentionally
on the same referent) & intersubjectivity (mutual understanding people share during communication)
- 1 year-olds’ understanding of others includes an understanding of their emotions
fairly often offer physical comfort (hugs, kisses, pats) & comforting comments (“You be OK”) to unhappy
presumably, infants’ experience of their own emotions & behaviors that accompany them helps them understand
Development Beyond Infancy
- in toddler & preschool periods, children build on their early-emerging psychological understanding to develop an
increasingly sophisticated comprehension of themselves & others & to interact w/ others in increasingly complex ways
- 2 especially impressive areas of development are:
1. childrens understanding of other peoples minds
2. their play w/ peers
The Growth of a Theory of Mind
- infants’ naïve psychology + their strong interest in others, provides the foundation for development of a theory of mind
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