Do children show evidence of innate cognitive abilities?

The psychological research supporting natives theories will be compared with the contrasting empiricist views, which highlight environmental experiences, in a discussion to examine whether infants exhibit evidence of innate cognitive abilities in he developmental area of language acquisition. Children, despite having no knowledge of words themselves when they are born, are able to acquire language quickly and with apparent ease, and many ideas have been put forward to examine and understand the processes that lie behind the acquisition of language.

The main theories include those of Natives and Empiricism. Natives is the theoretical position which argues that language is acquired so quickly as the result of a built in, innate mechanism, that makes infants predisposed to learning language (Harris, 2006). The opposing Empiricist position on the other hand holds that language is not built in but rather that it is learnt through children’s experiences and interactions with their environment.

Chomsky, who supports the ideas of Natives, has argued that a Universal Grammar exists, and that children are able to learn language so quickly because of an innate understanding of syntax rules (the rules for combining words in to sentences); he proposes that through the use an innate ‘language acquisition device’ language specific features of utterances (the surface structure of engage) are translated into the innate deep structure of language with which children are born (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP).

Chomsky built upon the idea for an innate mechanism in language development by highlighting the universality of its acquisition by children, despite the poverty of input from the environment; the argument that children are often exposed to grammatically imperfect, ‘degenerate’ language, which alone would not fully account for language development (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP). The social constructivism perspective contrasts with

Chomsky perspective of degenerate language by explaining how the home environment and surrounding culture of a child acts as a language acquisition support system (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP). Burner (1975, 1993) highlighted how parents have the tendency to talk to their children in a way which facilitates language learning; known as infant directed talk, or ‘mothers’. Children often hear language in familiar social contexts, where the speech directed to the child often names the objects or people currently in view and where the general focus of speech if focused on what is currently happening (Harris, 2006).

In this way mothers facilitates learning words and their meanings through association, so if the word apple is always spoken upon presentation on an apple the child should find it easier Do children show evidence of innate cognitive abilities? By greenmail 989 way children can learn to associate words or phrases with actions, such as if a parent always says ‘pups-daisy before picking up their child, the child is likely to learn that this phrase is followed by the action and expect to be picked up.

Children are believed to pay such attention to the utterances and actions of their careers because hey are motivated (have a social drive) to communicate, particularly as the fulfillment of their needs depends upon their careers (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP). Another approach which offers support to environmental factors in language acquisition draws on connectionist to further challenge the Natives argument; connectionist networks are essentially computer models that attempt to simulate the ways in which children learn a language.

For example children tend to go through a stage of using language accurately, to a stage of mistakes, and back again to accuracy. These artificial computerized neural networks have been able to replicate this development pattern, and the findings have suggested it occurs because children initially imitate the words they have heard from others, but when they move on to trying to use words for themselves in sentences mistakes occur, over time children improve at their language and exhibit perfect use of words again.

Connectionist has also been able to replicate the Vocabulary spurt’, a stage many children go through where there is a sudden increase in comprehension vocabulary size (Harris, 2006). The spurt appears to occur simply because learning a certain amount of information reinforces the learning process making it easier to learn more things quickly (Plunked and Wood, 2006).

Whilst this offers excellent support to the empiricist view that environmental factors predominate in language development behaviorism explanations by Skinner appear over simplistic. Skinner believed that language acquisition arises from the reinforcement of reward and punishment, such as if a parent takes delight in an utterance from their child, the child is likely to find the costive feedback from the parent a pleasurable experience, and so the child is likely to emit the same behavior again in the future (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP).

Skinner’s view that behavior is learnt through reinforcement suggests that even animals, if their physiology allowed them, would be able to learn language; however attempts to teach language to animals have had very limited success, with communication being devoid of meaning and largely arise by way of imitation rather than through reward and punishment, (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP). Therefore it s clear that the complex communication system of language is a distinctly human trait.

A further empiricist approach to understanding the development of language has been put forward by Automates (2000), who’s distributional approach to syntax theorists that children are able to acquire knowledge of the rules of grammar in a piecemeal fashion based on regularities in the way in which words are used (Plunked and Wood, 2006). Automates puts forth the usage-based language theory which argues that vocabulary and an understanding of the rules of one’s own language arises from the use of that language (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP).

Also important to Tangelo’s ideas about children’s acquisition of language is the development of theory of mind skills. Theory of mind refers to the ability that the majority of human beings have to take the perspective of another in order to understand their mental state and to both explain and predict the actions of others advanced theory of mind skills than normally developing children and perform less well on theory of mind tasks; such individuals lack the usual drive to be social and tend to struggle with social relationships and understanding the mental states of ethers (Firth, 2008, up 69,73).

This helps to illustrate how theory of mind significantly aids communication skills in everyday interactions as it allows for the understanding of others behavior and beliefs. Support for this comes from Tangelo’s find the tomato’ experiment, which has shown how children’s sensitivity to the intentions, emotions, and pragmatic cues made by the speaker contribute to the learning of labels for novel objects (Mitchell and Ziegler, 2012, IPPP).

For example, Baldwin (1995) research shows how pointing, along with naming and association can significantly aid learning. She found that infants spent longer looking at a novel object when it was pointed to in comparison to when it was not pointed to, and the amount of time a child spent looking at an object was even longer when it was simultaneously named and pointed to (Harris, 2006).

This research shows how important the environment is for language learning but could also suggest that children have a natural predisposition to spend longer observing objects that are singled out in this way (Harris, 2006), and further research has shown a strong correlation between the age at which children appear to come to understand object Ames and the age at which they begin to point at things themselves Harris et al (1995). In conclusion the Natives view points, such as the existence of a Universal Grammar, provide compelling arguments for the existence of an innate mechanism driving language development.

However not all phenomena in language development can be fully explained by Natives theories. Empiricist use of connectionist has provided significant support to the Empiricist theories of phenomena such as the vocabulary spurt, and the language acquisition support system in social constructivism illustrates the importance of children’s environment, ND so there appears to be greater emphasis in psychology on the environment with regard to language acquisition, however Natives theories do continue provide useful insights. 400 words References Harris, M. (2006). ‘First Words’. Milton Keynes. The Open University. Dates, J. Grayson, A. (2006) Cognitive and Language Development in Children. Milton Keynes. The Open University. Firth, U. (2008). ‘Autism A very Short Introduction’. Oxford University Press. Mitchell, P. , & Ziegler, F. (2012). ‘Fundamentals of developmental Psychology. Hove Psychology Press.

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