Chapter 5.pdf

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Western University
Psychology 3229A/B
Scott Mac Dougall- Shackleton

Chapter 5: Cognitive Development and the Innateness Issue Nature, Nurture, and Evolutionary Psychology • Recently, the evolutionary approach has led to a renaissance in nativism as a means of explaining human behaviour and, in particular, that human development is constrained by the existence of innate mental modules Innate Similarities and Innate Differences • Current thinking in evolutionary psychology draws a distinction between the claim that differences between individuals are innate and the claim that similarities among individuals are innate • These two claims are logically independent • The evidence from behavioural genetics research shows that there are a strong genetic influences on individual differences What Does ‘Innate’Really Mean? • The mind is made up of innate mental modules - specialized processing units that are domain specific, that is, they are responsible for particular types of data such as language, physics, faces, cheat-detection and understanding mental states • Moreover, these modules are present because they were engineered by natural selection • According to Cosmides and Tooby we should expect the mind to contain evolved mechanisms that are specific to particular problems that out predecessors faced in the ancestral environment, in addition to any general purpose learning algorithms What is the Evidence for Innate Modules? • We find that some abilities are present at birth or emerge shortly after then this might suggest that they are innate • Some disorders that manifest themselves in infancy or early childhood are characterized by the impairment of specific abilities with the comparative sparing of others • Claimed that this is because the disorder damages some mental modules but spares the others The Early Emergence of Specific Competencies • Piaget’s Developmental Theory • One of Piaget’s most important contributions was his suggestion that there was much in common between psychological development and biological development • Behavioural geneticists discuss a ‘developmental timetable’, which involves a series of likely milestones • Such a developmental sequence does not proceed along a fixed pathway but depends on a large amount of environmental feedback • Experiences matter, but that which is learned form experience is constrained by what was already present in the infant’s preexisting mental structures • The Epigenetic Landscape • One question that Piaget sought to address was the observation that although children have very different experiences, they nevertheless tend to develop in a very similar way Chapter 5: Cognitive Development and the Innateness Issue • C.H. Waddington proposed that development could be thought of in terms of an epigenetic landscape • Suggests that although experiences can affect psychological development, the nature and size of the effect is constrained by the structure of that which is already present • These constraints serve as a buffer and children will tend to turn out similar to each other despite often having quite different leaning experiences LearningAbout The Physical World • It has been suggested that it is our deep understanding of common-sense physics that makes learning school physics so difficult • One of the most basic assumptions of adult physical knowledge is object permanence • Does out of sight really mean out of mind? • The problem wit Piaget’s interpretation of the results is that they do not demonstrate conclusively that the infant has no understanding of the permanence of objects • Recently approaches have been developed which enable us to probe infants’thought processes in a more systematic way using techniques such as habituation procedures • Is this evidence for innate modules? • Many of the physical principles seem to emerge in the first six months, rather than being present form birth • Carey and Spelke suggest that babies are born with a set of innate physical principles that serve to guide their developing knowledge of the physical world based on their experience Recognizing Conspecifics:AComparative Perspective • In Lorenz’s notion of imprinting, following birth, precocial animals enter a critical period during which they rapidly learn the visual characteristics of their mother • Lorenz saw this special learning process as the outcome of natural selection • He also suggested that the young emerge without a preference as to what the imprinting object might be since in the natural world the object will almost certainly be their mother • Bateson and Hinde discuss imprinting as occurring during a more plastic sensitive period • In their view this period depends very much on what sort of external input they receive • Evolution has therefore endowed some non-human animals with a ‘quick and dirty’approach to recognizing their parents which basically says ‘attach yourself to whatever you perceive during a very early sensitive period within certain broad constraints’ • Clearly the ability to recognize conspecifics is crucial for a baby’s survival and future development; perhaps even more so than it is for chicks given the importance of social interaction in human life • Infants’Preference for Faces in General • Evidence that face-like stimuli are interesting to infants • Fantz’s results might be taken as suggesting that infants are born with some knowledge of what a human face looks like • Johnson and Morton results suggest that infants are norn wit some preferece for face-like stimuli, but it is by no means fully specified; experience si still needed to flesh out the details Chapter 5: Cognitive Development and the Innateness Issue • They propose that learning about faces involves two processes which they call CONSPEC and CONLERN • CONSPEC it is suggested is an innately specified set of principles that are responsible for directing attention towards stimuli that resemble human faces, but this knowledge is crude and cannot distinguish between primitive and more detailed face-like stimuli • Guided by CONSPEC, CONLERN fleshes out the primitive representation based on experience of looking at faces and forms a more realistic representation of what a face is like • Rather than having an innate, domain-specific module for detecting faces, it has been suggested by Karmiloff-Smith that they have domain-relevant biases for certain stimuli that serve to guide the learning process • Instead of modules, Karmiloff-Smith proposes a process of modularization where mental capacities become increasingly domain-specific as a result of experience • Recognizing Specific People • Research suggests that newborns show a preference for their mother’s face rather than the face of a stranger • There is almost certainly noting special about the mother, the preferential allocation of attention seems to be towards the person with whom the neonate has had the closest contact in the hours following birth • However, as the preference disappeared if the mother and the non-mother were wearing identical wigs, suggesting that the infant was using cues such as the outline of the face more than the internal features • There is no reason tat the neonates’preference for their mother’s face indicates that they assume that this mother is a unique individual • It takes children many moths before they really respond to familiar faces in a predictable way • Although infants are competent face processors, this ability undergoes much refinement over the months as a result of experience Mind-Reading: The Development of a Theory of Mind • Living in social groups, therefore, has a particular set of selection pressures that act on the group members • Not only do individuals need to understand the physical environment, but it would benefit them enormously were they to evolve a way of understanding the actions, intentions and beliefs of their conspecifics • The ability to manipulate and deceive others has been labelled Machiavellian Intelligence • Deception and manipulation are cognitively speaking, co
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