Chapter 9_ Thinking_ Language and Intelligence

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Chapter 9_ Thinking_ Language and Intelligence Powered By Docstoc
					                               Module 23: Thinking & Language

      What is cognition?

        “Cognition” = the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing and remembering
(how we use the information we receive, store and retrieve). Cognitive psychologists study the
logical and illogical ways we create concepts, solve problems and make decisions.

        “Concepts” are mental groupings of similar objects, events, ideas or people. Without
concepts we‟d need a different name for every object and idea. Many animals are capable of
conceptual thinking (pigeons).
        Encountering new information for which we don‟t have matching concepts is awkward
(sexless Pat on Saturday night, beanbag chairs)

        Some concepts we form by definition, but more often we form them by “prototypes”, i.e.,
a mental image or best example of a category. The more closely an object resembles a
prototype, the quicker we are to recognize it as belonging to that concept. Similar when things
don‟t fit our prototype definitions, we‟re slow to recognize them if we recognize them at all.
This creates errors in thinking: Penguins as birds; female sexism.

        Concept hierarchies is the process of organizing specific concepts within more basic
ones, i.e., within the concept food are meat, starches, etc., Meat is further subdivided into beef,
chicken, etc.,

      What are common types of problem solving?

        Generally we solve problems through four different methods: trial and error, algorithm,
heuristics or insights.
        “Trial and error” means (randomly) trying something to see if it works
        “Algorithm” is a methodical, logical rule or procedure that guarantees solving a problem,
but can be lengthy (trying every permutation of a 6 letter JUMBLE).
        “Heuristics” are rule of thumb strategies that allow us to make judgments and solve
problems more efficiently, but are also more error prone (looking for a particular food item in a
grocery store).
        “Insight” is a sudden and often novel realization of the solution to a problem; no
strategizing is necessary. Jokes are often insight oriented. We laugh as we suddenly make the
connection. Chimpanzees also have the capacity for insight.

      What are common obstacles to effective problem solving?

       There are many obstacles to effective problem solving:

         “Mental set” = a tendency to approach a problem in a particular way (that may or may
not be helpful). Positively, mental sets can be rapid and efficient. Negatively they lead to
        “Fixation” is the inability to see a problem from a new perspective, i.e., thinking outside
the box (three triangles with 6 matches). It is a rigid, inflexible application of a mental set.
        One form of fixation is “functional fixedness” is thinking of things only in terms of their
usual functions (candle on bulletin board problem on p. 437).
        Fixation often gets stronger under stress (Korean War paratrooper).

        “Confirmation bias” is the tendency to notice information that confirms one‟s
conceptions (and downplay or ignore information that doesn‟t). This can be a real problem when
juries come up with an initial explanation for a crime, then focus only on detail that support their

         The following are counterproductive heuristics identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel
         “Availability heuristic” is estimating the likelihood of events based on their availability in
memory, i.e., if instances come readily to mind, we assume they‟re common. The problem here
is that vivid memories make a bigger impression on us and become disproportionately weighted
(like a big airplane crash splashed all over the news leading us to shun airplane travel for driving
which is statistically much more dangerous). Similarly, the lack of dramatic images for the
effects of smoking or alcohol abuse or overeating makes them easier to ignore. State lotteries
use AH by frequently showing lottery winners which leads people to misestimating their chances
of winning.
         “Representativeness heuristic”: judging the likelihood of things in terms of how well
they seem to represent our prototypes (likelihood of a slim, poetry reader being an Ivy-League
classics professor or a truck driver).

        “Overconfidence” is the tendency to overestimate the accuracy of our beliefs and
judgments. Succinctly, our confidence is greater than our accuracy. Even people 100% certain
are wrong 15% of the time. That said, overconfident people who think everything will work out
tend to live more happily and find it easier to make tough decisions. Overconfidence can be
limited by quick, clear feedback to facilitate learning.

        “Framing” is the way an issue is posed (which can significantly effect our decisions and
judgments). Examples: a 90% survival rate sounds a lot better than a 10% death rate; items on
sale seem a better deal even if they aren‟t any lower than non-sale prices at other stores; FedEx
offer a “drop-off discount” instead of “pick up” fee. Ground beef as 20% fat instead of 80%

        “Belief perseverance” refers to clinging to one‟s initial beliefs even after the basis on
which they were formed is discredited.
       [One technique to counteract BP is challenging the person to consider, “What would you
have done if the study came up with the opposite finding?”]
      What is language and how does it develop?

       Language refers to our spoken, written or gestured words and the ways we combine them
to communicate meaning. It is the most tangible indication of our thinking power; and what
allows us to transmit civilization‟s accumulated knowledge across generations.

      The basic building blocks of language are:
      “Phoneme” = in spoken language, the smallest distinctive sound unit. English has 40
phonemes; some languages have hundreds

        “Morpheme” = in language, the smallest unit that carries meaning; may be a worked or
part of a word. Usually, several phonemes combine to make a morpheme, though not always
(“I” or “a”). Water for example is made up of 4 phonemes. Many words are formed from
multiple morphemes (“waterfall”).
        From 40 phonemes we derive some 100,000 morphemes. From these we derive hundreds
of thousands of words and trillions of sentences.

        Grammar = system of rules governing how we can combine phonemes, morphemes and
words and arrange them in sentences to communicate with others. Grammar does not refer to
particular rules taught in English class. Rather it is the complicated rules by everyone who uses
spoken language.

      What are Skinner‟s and Chomsky‟s theory of language acquisition/development?

        Skinner believed language was a matter of learning principles/operant conditioning, i.e.,
association, imitation and reinforcement. And in fact, this is certainly how each of us learned the
specific language we learned.

        Noam Chomsky maintained that the rate at which children learn language goes beyond
operant conditioning and learning principles. They generate sentences they‟ve never heard.
They overgeneralize rules of grammar, i.e., batting  brooming. Children who are not exposed
to language but grouped together make up their own (including deaf children).
        Chomsky believed language development has a strong maturational component; that all
5000 human languages show structural similarities that indicate a “universal grammar” for which
our brains are pre-wired. He believed HBs had a predisposition to language; that are brains are
hardwired to pick up vocabulary and rules of grammer.
        Another point in favor of Chomsky‟s maturational emphasis is that a second language is
best learned in childhood. Research shows that children use same brain patch when learning a
second language; while adults use an adjacent area. Deaf children without sign language (90%)
who try to learn sign as adults show difficulties similar to adults trying to learn a second
language. Deaf children develop whose parents sign, develop language at about the same rate
hearing children do.
        The window for learning a spoken language, 1st or 2 nd seems to close about the age of 10.

       Both theorists have a valid point. Language acquisition is a result of nature and nurture.
      What are the stages of language development?

        Infants start without language („in fantis‟ means not speaking).
        At 4 months, babies start babbling, spontaneously phonemes from all the languages in the
world, uttering sounds that are unrelated to language of the household in which they live. Thus,
babbling is not an imitative phenomena. Deaf babies babble. Babies at this age can also read
lips and discriminate speech sounds. Thus initial language seems to have a strong maturation
        At 10 months, babbling sounds and intonations start to imitate those of the household.
They lose their ability to discriminate sounds they never hear (but are important distinctions in
other languages). Over time, different cultures have trouble using phonemes of other cultures.
        About 12 months infants enter the one-word stage and begin to use sounds that
communicate meaning. Initially an infant might learn a word a week. By 18 months, they‟re
learning a word per day.
        Around 2 years they usually enter the two-word stage of telegraphic speech, i.e., speech
consisting of mostly nouns and verbs without auxiliaries (like a telegraph). Even at this stage,
the child uses proper syntax, i.e., grammatical rules.
        Two years +, the child moves on to uttering longer phrases.

      What is Benjamin Whorf‟s “linguistic relativity” hypothesis?

        “Linguistic relativity” is Benjamin Lee Whorf‟s hypothesis that language determines the
way we think; that different languages impose different conceptions of reality.
        This is an overstatement. Language doesn‟t govern our thoughts, but it certainly
influences how we think. People who speak two languages report thinking differently and
experiencing themselves differently in each language. Bilingual people will score differently on
personality tests taken in different languages. Different languages also emphasize different
things. English is rich in self-focused emotions; Japanese in interpersonal emotions. Gender
biased language, i.e., chairman instead of chairperson does in fact influence what images come to
mind when we hear the word.
        So be careful/aware of the influence of language.

       One way to counteract linguistic influence is to keep expanding our vocabulary. This
expands our language and ability to think. This might explain why bilingual children generally
outperform monolinguals on IQ tests, develop higher self-esteem, have a lower drop out rate and
eventually attain higher levels of academic achievement. Similarly, deaf children with sign
language become fully literate.

       Thinking is not merely self-conversation because it is not inextricably tied to words.
Sometime, we think in images. And research shows that guided imagery can effect athletic and
behavioral performance (athletes using visualization; dart performance improvement, students
asked to imagine studying hard). Not only do we think with images, we also do a lot of
automatic processing that doesn‟t involve words.
      Do chimpanzees and other animals have language?

        Animals, especially great apes certainly display remarkable capacities for thinking.
Monkeys are able to use numbers, show insight, use tools and even demonstrate cultural
diversity and customs.
        However do animals have language? Chimps (who are genetically closer to us than other
apes) are capable of sign language at about a 2 year old level (Beatrix and Allen Gardner and
their chimp Washoe). So „yes‟, they can certainly communicate through a meaningful sequence
of symbols. However, if language means verbal or signed expressions of complex grammar, the
answer would have to be „no‟. Interestingly, a baby monkey grown up with a signing mother
develops the ability rapidly; and a community of monkeys taught sign spontaneously use it (with
90% inter-observer agreement). So just like humans, early exposure seems key.

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