CHAPTER 9 – Language & Thinking
- Human languages across the globe share the same underlying features.
Language is symbolic and structured, conveys meaning, is generative,
and permits displacement. Language has many adaptive functions, such
as facilitating cooperative social systems and allowing people to transmit
knowledge to one another. Scientists believe that humans have evolved
an innate capacity for acquiring language.
- The surface structure of a language refers to how symbols are combined;
the deep structure refers to the underlying meaning of the symbols.
Language elements are hierarchically arranged: from phoneme to
morpheme to word phrases, and sentences. Discourse involves higher-
level combinations of sentences.
- Understanding and producing language—including pattern recognition of
words and the hierarchical structure of language—involve bottom-up and
- In infancy, babies can perceive all the phonemes that exist in all the
languages of the world. Between 6-12 months of age, their speech
discrimination narrows to include only the sounds specific to their native
tongue. By ages 4-5, most children have learned the basic grammatical
rules for combining words into meaningful sentences.
- Language development seems to depend heavily on innate mechanisms
that permit the learning and production of language, provided that the
child is exposed to an appropriate linguistic environment during a
sensitive period that extends from early childhood to puberty.
- Although research findings are not entirely consistent, it appears that a
second language is most easily mastered and fluently spoken if it is
learned during a sensitive period that ranges from early childhood
possibly through mid-adolescence. Bilingual children tend to perform
better than monolingual children on a variety of cognitive tasks.
- In general, it appears that when people acquire a second language early
in life or learn it to a high degree of proficiency later in life, both
languages share a common neural network.- Language influences what people think and how effectively they think.
Expansion of vocabulary allows people to encode and process
information in more sophisticated ways.
- Researchers have attempted to teach apes to use hand signs or keyboard
symbols to communicate in language-like fashion. At best, apes are
capable of learning, combining, and communicating with symbols at a
level similar to that of a human toddler. Skeptics question whether apes
can learn syntax and generate novel ideas.
- In deductive reasoning, we reason from general principles to a conclusion
about a specific case. Inductive reasoning, in contrast, involves reasoning
from a set of specific facts or observations to a general principle.
Deduction is the strongest and most valid form of reasoning, because the
conclusion cannot be false if the premises are true. Inductive reasoning
cannot yield certainty.
- Unsuccessful deductive reasoning can result from (1) failure to select the
appropriate information; (2) failure to apply the appropriate deductive
reasoning rules, particularly in novel situations; and (3) belief bias, the
tendency to abandon logical rules in favour of personal beliefs.
- Problem solving proceeds through a number of steps: (1) understanding
the nature of the problem, (2) establishing initial hypotheses or potential
solutions, (3) testing the solutions against evidence to rule out
hypotheses that do not apply, and (4) evaluating results.
- Problem-solving schemas are shortcut methods for solving specialized
classes of problems. They are stored in long-term memory and can help
to overcome the limitations of working memory. Expertise results from
acquiring a range of successful problem-solving schemas through
training and practical experience, as well as knowing when to apply them.
- Algorithms are formulas or procedures that guarantee correct solutions.
Heuristics are general strategies that may or may not provide correct
solutions. Means-ends analysis is one commonly used heuristic. The
representativeness heuristic is the tendency to judge evidence according
to whether it is consistent with an existing concept or schema. The
availability heuristic is the tendency to base conclusions and probability
judgments on what is readily available in memory. Humans exhibit
confirmation bias, a tendency to look for facts to support hypotheses rather than to disprove them; and they suffer from overconfidence, a
tendency to overestimate their knowledge, beliefs, and decisions.
- In some situations, divergent thinking is needed for generating novel
ideas or variations on ideas. Functional fixedness can blind us to new
ways of using an object or a procedure, thereby interfering with creative
problem solving. In some cases, a period of incubation permits problem
solving to proceed on a subconscious level while giving the problem
solver psychological distance from the problem.
- At the level of the brain, thoughts are patterns of neural activity. At the
level of the mind, thoughts are propositional, imaginal, or motoric mental
- Concepts are mental categories, or classes, that share certain
characteristics. Many concepts are based on prototypes, the most typical
and familiar members of a class. How much something resembles the
prototype determines whether the concept is applied to it. Propositional
thought involves the use of concepts in the form of statements.
- Knowledge acquisition can be viewed as a process of building schemas,
which are mental frameworks. Scripts, which are one type of schema,
provide a framework for understanding sequences of events that usually
unfold in a regular, almost standardized, order.
- Experts rely heavily on schemas that they have developed from
experience. Compared with novices, experts have more schemas to guide
problem solving in their field and are much better at recognizing when
each schema should be applied. Schemas also enable experts to take
greater advantage of long-term memory.
- Wisdom represents a system of knowledge about the meaning and
conduct of life. According to one model, wisdom has 5 major
components: rich factual knowledge, rich procedural knowledge, an
understanding of lifespan contexts, an awareness of the relativism of
values and priorities, and the ability to recognize and manage
- A mental image is a representation of a stimulus that originates outside
the brain rather than from external sensory input. The objective,
quantifiable study of mental imagery received a huge boost from research
examining people’s ability to mentally rotate objects. - Mental images of objects seem to have properties that are analogous to
the properties of actual objects (ex