My College Class Notes

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Posts Tagged ‘Forgetting

The Developing Child (Video 5)

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The Developing Child is the fifth program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. This program introduces examples of cognitive, perceptual, and behavioral development in children. You’ll explore the roles of heredity and environment in child development, and children’s incremental understanding of such phenomena as object permanence, symbolic reasoning, and perception of visual depth.

One of the most distinctive human characteristics is the ability to understand and use symbols. We have a variety of symbol systems in our everyday lives. We use language, we read, we use pictures, and we understand computer programs. We’re not born with this ability, so what I’m studying are the earliest forms of symbolic reasoning that a child understands, and when that cognitive ability to reason develops.

Specifically, I’m concerned with a child’s understanding of a scale model, a symbol, that represents a larger space. When the child sees the scale model of a miniature playroom, does the child understand that this little playroom represents a bigger room? And when does a child acquire symbolic understanding? The interesting feature of this research is that we see an abrupt change between ages two-and-a-half and three in a child’s ability to understand scale models. When we experiment with scale models of playrooms, the two-and-a-half-year-old doesn’t understand the relationship between the symbolic room and the actual room, and instead treats it as a separate object. The three-year-old, on the other hand, understands immediately that the model is a symbol for an actual room.

In becoming symbolic creatures, we learn to think abstractly. At age three, children acquire the ability to think about things in two different ways at the same time: as both an object and a symbol for something else. Acquiring symbolic understanding is an important milestone in the cognitive development that helps us figure out how the world operates. Later in life, for example, we use it to read maps and understand languages.

This research helps us appreciate the complexity of human thought in young children. The clearer our knowledge of what children know, the better we can work with them as educators and as parents. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joseph Eulo

June 8, 2008 at 1:25 am

Language Development (Video 6)

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Language Development is the sixth program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. This program outlines the development of language in children. It highlights linguist Noam Chomsky’s theories about the human brain’s predisposition to understand language, and then profiles three scientists working on aspects of psycholinguistics.

One of our main concerns as psycholinguists is figuring out the strategies that children use to discover the grammar of their languages. If you ask ordinary parents how their child learned to talk, they would probably say, “He just imitated. What’s the problem?” Well, one problem is that if you listen to what children say, they often say things they couldn’t have imitated. So a child might say something like “I breaked the glass” or “I falled down.”

Adults don’t say things like “breaked” and “falled,” but children do. These errors are to us the best evidence that the child is doing something creative. The child is in fact working out the structure of the grammar. When you hear a child saying things like “breaked” and “falled,” this means that the child has worked out the pattern for forming the past tense in English. English doesn’t always follow that pattern, but the child has discovered a pattern.

All through the years of language learning, the child is struggling between two opposite problems. On the one hand, he or she wants to adapt language, a particular language, to the natural patterns of thought. On the other hand, the child has to accommodate to the particular grammar of that language. The result, of course, is our adult linguistic capabilities. But along the way, if you look carefully, you can see the interplay between these two factors.

Language is perhaps the most complex cognitive product we have. It’s something that all human beings acquire within the first few years of life, regardless of the circumstances in which they grow up, and to a great extent regardless even of their intelligence. Language reflects something about the basic nature of the human mind. The fact that language is universally so patterned, and that it universally follows such stages of development in its acquisition by children, raises deep questions about the organization of knowledge.

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Written by Joseph Eulo

June 8, 2008 at 1:23 am

Sensation and Perception (Video 7)

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Sensation and Perception is the seventh program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. This program unravels the complex process of how we see. You’ll learn about visual illusions and what causes them, the biology of perception, the visual pathway, and how the human brain processes information during perception.

Dr. David Hubel explains how cellular structures in the nervous system create the visual pathway between eyesight and brain processing.

In order to understand what we mean by pathway, you need to understand that cells are clustered in the nervous system. They’re aggregated into groups the size of a grain of rice or a marble. One region is connected to another by cables.

So in the case of the visual pathway, you start with the retina where rods and cones are connected by cells. The output is the optic nerve, which contains a million fibers. They end up in one of two regions in the brain, and they connect to other regions, or to the many regions in the cortex. This whole trail is the pathway.

Our studies of single cells tell us that the pathway consists of at least three separate sub-pathways, each with a specific role: one is concerned with color, a second, with form, and a third with movement and depth. If we record any individual cell, depending on the channel, the cell will only respond to one of these three areas.

I want to see how individual cells work when we perceive. We’ve only studied a couple of the visual areas intensely, and there seem to be 18 to 24 different visual areas in the occipital lobe at the back of the brain. Most of our work is on the primary visual cortex, just the first of these areas. It’s exceedingly complex, but we’ll know more about all of the sensory pathways in the brain with more research and experimenting.

Written by Joseph Eulo

June 8, 2008 at 1:22 am

Learning (Video 8)

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Learning is the eighth program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. This program discusses the basic principles of how we learn; classical, instrumental, and operant conditioning; and the role that stimuli and consequences play in learned behavior and habits. You’ll explore how renowned researchers Ivan Pavlov, B. F. Skinner, Edward Thorndike, and John B. Watson contributed to what we know about human and animal learning.

In the study of behavior, operant behavior is affected by the environment, and operative conditioning is used to reinforce behavioral change. Behavioral psychologist Dr. Howard Rachlin used operant conditioning to study ways of developing self-control in pigeons.

Dr. Rachlin chose to use pigeons because they can be a particularly impulsive subject. The experiment prompted the pigeons to peck one button once for a small bit of food, and another button 15 times for a larger amount. When presented with a choice between a small but immediate portion of food or a large but delayed portion of food, pigeons chose the small, short-term reward. But when Dr. Rachlin’s team put a pigeon in a box with two buttons that both required 15 pecks for any amount of food at all, the pigeon ultimately chose the button that offered the larger amount.

Eventually, the pigeons learned to choose a larger amount of food by pecking a button 15 times and then waiting four seconds for the food, as opposed to choosing a more immediate but smaller reward. Dr. Rachlin’s experiment illustrated that a pattern of behavior can reinforce the choices that lead to self-control. Parallel human experiences include healthy behavioral changes such as cultivating good exercise habits, quitting smoking, or finding alternative outlets for anger and stress.

Mary Ann Chapman expands on Dr. Rachlin’s findings, and how the principles of operant conditioning can be used to overcome bad habits or addictions. (Scroll down past the header for the article.)

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Written by Joseph Eulo

June 8, 2008 at 1:21 am

Remembering and Forgetting (Video 9)

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Remembering and Forgetting is the ninth program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. This program looks at the complexity of memory: how images, ideas, language, physical actions, even sounds and smells are translated into codes that are represented in the memory and retrieved as needed.

Memory is defined as stored information. When we take in information — a lecture, for example — neurotransmitters in the brain are working to filter and store the information in memory. While it sounds simple, memory is a complex and dynamic process that relies on a series of factors.

At a very basic level, the process involves the hippocampus in the brain taking information from the environment, encoding it, and changing it into a form that the cerebral cortex can then store, retain, and retrieve. Through each step a memory neurotransmitter called acetylcholine transmits the needed nerve impulses.

What we know about memory is also instructive about why we forget. In chronic memory loss and dementia, the acetylcholine transmission is impaired. In the most severe cases of memory loss, like Alzheimer’s disease, not only is the acetylcholine connection devastated, but the cortex also gradually deteriorates and the brain acquires toxic substances.

Recent research into memory, forgetting, and the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease focuses on the ways the eye-blink classical conditioning tests, demonstrated in the program, can predict the earliest onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Because Alzheimer’s disease kills cells and its pathology is irreversible, early detection is the only hope for a cure or prevention.

Doctors and researchers are working to develop a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease. The vaccine would block the toxins that accumulate in the brain and preserve the acetylcholine connection that is so vital to memory.

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Written by Joseph Eulo

June 8, 2008 at 1:20 am


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