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Chapter 1

PSYC 3440 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: John Stuart Mill, Associationism, Cerebral Cortex

Course Code
PSYC 3440
Meghan Mc Murtry

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Chapter 1: An Introduction to Children’s Thinking
What is Children’s Thinking
Children’s thinking: the thinking that takes place from the moment of birth through the
end of adolescence
Defining what thinking is turns out to be quite difficult, as no boundary divides activities
that involving thinking from activities that do not
Thinking involves the higher mental processes: problem solving, reasoning, creating,
conceptualizing, remembering, classifying, symbolizing, planning, etc.
Childrens thinking is constantly changing
Key Questions about Children’s Thinking:
Are some capabilities innate
Does children’s thinking progress through qualitatively different stages
How do changes in children’s thinking occur
Why do individual children differ so much from each other in their thinking
How does the social world contribute to cognitive development
o Researchers who take an information-processing perspective on cognitive
development tend to emphasize the issue of how change occurs, whereas
researchers who take a sociocultural perspective focus on how the social world
contributes to cognitive development
o Each other the major theories of cognitive development has something to say
about the questions above
Are Some Capabilities Innate?
The question of infants’ initial endowment has elicited many speculations
o Three of the most prominent come from the associationist perspective, the
constructivist perspective and the competent-infant perspective
Associationist perspective:
o 1700s-1800s
o John Locke, David Hume, John Stuart Mill
o They suggest that infants come into the world with only minimal capabilities,
primarily the ability to associate experiences with each other
o Infants must acquire virtually all capacities and concepts through learning
Constructivist perspective:
o Jean Piaget
o 1920s-1970s
o Suggests that infants are born possessing not only these associative capabilities
but also several important perceptual and motor capabilities

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o Allow very few abilities, they allow infants to explore their environment and to
construct increasingly sophisticated concepts and understandings
Competent-infant perspective:
o Based on recent research
o Suggests that both of the other approaches seriously underestimate infants’
o Even young infants have a much wider range of perceptual skills and conceptual
understandings that had previously been suspected
These capacities allow infants to perceive the world and to classify their
experiences along many of the same dimensions that older children and
adults use
o Infants perspective of distance is more impressive than once suspected
o The day after infants are born, they can already perceive which objects are closer
and which are farther away
Some degree of distance perception is present even before infants have
experience crawling or walking around the environment
o Infants possess more knowledge of properties of objects than suspected
o By 3 months, infants show some understanding that objects continue to exist even
when they move behind other objects and cannot be seen, without support objects
will fall, solid objects cannot move through one another
o Infants possess general learning mechanisms that help them acquire a wide range
of new knowledge, these include:
Imitation: repetitions provide a way for infants to learn new behaviours
and also to strengthen their bond with those they imitate
Statistical learning: extracting sequential patterns from input. In their first
year, infants are capable of detecting such patterns both in auditory input
such as tone sequences or linguistic sounds
Does Development Progress Through Stages?
The view development as stage like was in part inspired by the ideas of Charles Darwin
Darwin’s most influential observation was since living things have been on earth, they
have evolved through a series of qualitative distinct forms
o This suggested that development within a given lifetime also progresses through
distinct forms/stages
Associationists compared the developmental process to a building being constructed
brick by brick
James Mark Baldwin: a set of plausible stages of intellectual development
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