Language & Thinking
Communication: the sending and receiving
Language: the primary mode of communication
A systematic way of communicating information
using symbols and rules for combining them
Speech: oral expression of language
Approximately 5,000 spoken languages exist today.
Broca’s & Wernicke’s
Do Animals Use Language?
Since 1930s, numerous attempts have been made
to teach language to a few select species.
The most appropriate conclusion to draw:
Nonhuman species show no capacity to produce
language on their own, but
Certain species can be taught to produce
Infants Born Prepared
to Learn Language
Language acquisition – learning vs. inborn
Behaviorism’s language theory
People speak as they do because they have been
reinforced for doing so.
Behaviorists assumed children were relatively passive.
The problem with this theory is that it does not fit the
Operant conditioning principles do not play the primary
role in language development.
Infants Born Prepared to Learn Language
The nativist perspective:
Language development proceeds according to an inborn
Language Acquisition Device (Noam Chomsky): humans
are born with specialized brain structures (Language
Acquisition Device) that facilitates the learning of
Propose environmental and biological factors interact
together to affect the course of language development.
Social interactionist perspective strongly influenced by
Lev Vygotsky’s writings
Infants Born Prepared
to Learn Language
Assessing the three perspectives on language
Behaviorists place too much emphasis on conditioning
Nativists don’t give enough credit to environmental
Interactionist approaches may offer best possible
The Linguistic Relativity
Does language determine thought?
Benjamin Lee Whorf’s linguistic relativity hypothesis
Proposed that the structure of language determines the
structure of thought (without a word to describe an experience,
you cannot think about it).
However, research indicates that just because a language lacks
terms for stimuli does not mean that language users cannot
perceive features of the stimuli.
The answer is no. Most psychologists believe in a weaker
version of Whorf’s hypothesis—that language can influence
The mental activity of knowing
The processes through which knowledge is
The processes through which problems are
Concept: a mental grouping of objects, ideas, or
events that share common properties
Concepts enable people to store memories in an organized
Categorization is the process of forming concepts.
We form some concepts by identifying defining features.
Problem with forming concepts by definition is that many
familiar concepts have uncertain or fuzzy boundaries.
Thus, categorizing has less to do with features that define
all members of a concept and has more to do with features
that characterize the typical member of a concept.
The most representative members of a concept are
known as prototypes.
When Is It a “Cup,” and
When Is It a “Bowl”?
Determine whether something belongs to a
group by comparing it with the prototype.
Objects accepted and rejected define the
boundaries of the group or concept.
This is different for different people.
Common problem-solving strategies:
Trial and error: trying one possible solution after
another until one works
Algorithm: following a specific rule or step-by-step
procedure that inevitably produces the correct
Heuristic: following a general rule of thumb to
reduce the number of possible solutions
Insight: sudden realization of how a problem can
“Internal” Obstacles Can
Impede Problem Solving
Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek information that
supports our beliefs, while ignoring disconfirming
Mental set: the tendency to continue using solutions that
have worked in the past, even though a better alternative
Functional fixedness: the tendency to think of objects as
functioning in fixed and unchanging ways and ignoring
other less obvious ways in which they might be used
The Candle Problem
the tendency to make decisions based on how closely an
alternative matches (or represents) a particular prototype
the tendency to judge the frequency or probability of an
event in terms of how easy it is to think of examples of that
Five conditions most likely to lead to heuristic use:
People don’t have time to engage in systematic analysis.
People are overloaded with information.
People consider issues to be not very important.
People have little information to use in making a decision.
Something about the situation primes a given heuristic.