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Chapter 7

PSYC 251 Chapter Notes - Chapter 7: Etawah Safari Park, Heredity, Object Permanence

Course Code
PSYC 251
Stanka A Fitneva

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Conceptual Development
Concepts: General ideas or understandings that can be used to group together
objects, events, qualitites or abstractions that are similar in some way
Understanding Who or What
Dividing Objects into Categories
Children quickly divide the objects they encounter into 3 categories: inanimate
objects, people and other animals
Forming general categories allows children to draw accurate inferences about
unfamiliar entities
Ex: If a child is told that a platypus is a type of animal, they will automatically
assume that the platypus can move, grow, eat and reproduce
Children organize their observations of these categories into informal theories
Three types of informal theories:
- Theory of physics (inanimate objects)
- Theory of psychology (people)
- Theory of biology (other living things)
The 3 informal theories are rudimentary, but share 3 important characteristics with
formal scientific theories
- Identify fundamental units for dividing all objects and events into a few basic
- Explain phenomena in terms of a few fundamental principles
- Explain events in terms of unobservable causes
Speculate that children are born with a primitive theory of physics (understand
that physical objects occupy space, only move by external forces, move in a
continuous way)
At 18 months first theory of psychology emerges and theory of biology emerges
around 3 years
Initial biological theory distinuguishes animals from inanimate objects and plants,
but not until 7 years that children are convinced that the category of living things
includes plants as well as animals
Category Hierarchies: Categories that are related by set-subset relations, such as
animal/dog/poodle, help children make finer distinctions among objects within
each category, simplifies world, allows them to make accurate inferences
Categorization of Objects in Infancy
When showing infants pics of cats, they habituated early on, but when shown pics
of lions, dogs, and other animals they did not habituate. Therefore, from infancy,
children are able to place cats in the same category
Perceptual Categorization: Grouping together of objects that have similar
appearances, infants categorize objects among many perceptual dimensions,
including colour, size and movement, often categorization is largely based on
specific parts of the object rather than the whole (ex: infants often use legs as a

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As children reach their 2nd birthday they start to categorize objects by their overall
Categorization of Objects Beyond Infancy
As children grow older, they grasp not only individual categories, but also
hierarchical and causal relations among categories
Superordinate Level or Categorization: Most general level within a category
hierarchy, such as “animal” in the animal/dog/poodle category
Subordinate Level: Most specific level, such as poodle
Basic Level: Middle level, often first level learned within a category hierarchy,
- Since they learn the most basic level first, they form categories of medium
generality before they form more general or more specific ones
- Form basic level first because it has the most consistent characteristics in the
Ex: Trees all have leaves, large, branches, while plants come in a range of shapes
and sizes and subordinate level is very specific
Very young children’s basic categories do not match those of adults, adults will
place cars, motorcycles and buses in separate categories while children will often
group them as objects with wheels
After forming basic-level categories, children form super and subordinate
categories because parents use the child’s basic categories as a foundation for
explaining the more specific/general
Understanding causal relations is crucial in forming categories
Understaning cause-effect relations help children learn and remember new
Knowledge of Other People and Oneself
Naïve Psychology: A commonsense level of understanding or other people and
oneself, crucial to normal human functioning, are what makes us human
Chimpanzees are equal to 2 ½ year old children on tasks that require physical
reasoning, but fall short of toddlers on tasks requiring social reasoning
Three concepts are the center of naïve psychology: desires, beliefs and actions,
many refer to these as invisible mental states, they are linked together in cause-
effect relations, develop early in life
We apply these concepts every time to think about why someone did something
Navists believe that this early understanding is possible because children are born
with a basic understanding of human psychology
Empiricists believe that experiences with other people and general information-
processing capacities are the key sources to the early understanding of other
Infant’s Naïve Psychology
Infants find people interesting and pay careful attention to them, this early interest
in human faces/bodies help infants learn about peoples behaviour
Imitating other people and forming emotional bonds with them encourages the
other people to interact more with the infants

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Understanding of intention, the desire to act in a certain way develops late first
year/early second, emerge around the same time as intersbjectivity and joint
Infant’s experience of their own emotions and the behaviours that accompany
them help them understand the emotions that accompany other’s actions
Development Beyond Infancy
Theory of Mind: An organized understanding of how mental processes, such as
intentions, desires, beliefs and perceptions and emotions influence behaviour
Important component of theory of mind, the understanding of the connection
between other’s people’s desires and actions emerges by the end of the first year
In a study a researcher gushed over one kitty, but then held the other one. 12
month olds looked longer when the researcher held the other kitty, but 8 month
olds did not look longer. Indicates that 12 month olds can use information about a
person’s earlier desires to predict the person’s later desires
By age 3, children show some understanding of the relation between beliefs and
Ex: Will answer “Why is Billy looking for his dog?” with “He thinks his dog ran
away” (belief) and “He wants it” (desire)
Most 3 year olds also have an understanding of beliefs originate, know that seeing
an event produces beliefs about it
False-Belief Problems: Tasks that test a child’s understanding that other people
will act in accord with their own beliefs even when the child knows that those
beliefs are incorrect, another person believes something to be true that the child
knows is false
Ex: When shown a box that is labeled Smarties, children will say that Smarties are
inside and will be surprised when pencils are found inside. If you ask 5 year olds
what they think their friends will think is inside the box, the 5 year olds will say
Smarties, while 3 year olds will assume that their friends will say pencils as well
3 year old responses show that they have difficulty understanding that other
people act on their own beliefs, even when those beliefs are false
Children’s theory of mind continue to develop beyond the age of 3, 14 year olds
involved in acting in plays had a greater understanding of other people’s thinking
than those without acting experience
3 year olds across cultures all had same response to false-belief tasks
Theory of Mind Module (TOMM): Hypothesized brain mechanism devoted to
understanding other human beings, believed by people who take the nativist
Among typical children exposed to a typical environment, the TOMM matures
over the first 5 years producing an increasingly sophisticated understanding of
people’s minds
Children on the austism spectrum have great difficulty with false belief problems
and understanding people, one reason for these difficulties is understanding the
social world appears to be atypical sizes of certain brain areas that are crucial for
understanding people
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