Summary Cognitive Development: The learning brain - Goswami

What does cognitive development mean according to Goswami? - Chapter 0

Cognitive development includes the development of:

  • attention
  • learning
  • memory
  • reasoning
  • language
  • concepts

This development starts as soon as the baby leaves the mother's belly. However, recent research has shown that parts of cognitive development already start in the womb. For example, memories of the mother's voice during pregnancy are already stored in the memory.

Why can cognitive neuroscience be seen as a new era?

Cognitive psychology sees cognition as concepts and ideas in the mind. These are called cognitive representations. It is believed that these representations are both discreet and symbolic.

Due to technical progress, we can now display images of active areas of the brain during a certain action. We can now see what the brain does while, for example, solving a problem. Brain research in children can currently be carried out by three techniques:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG): Sensitive electrodes are placed on the skull. These electrodes detect the electrical brain activity. A disadvantage of this technique is that localization is very difficult. However, the technique is very accurate.

  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): an fMRI scan measures the changes in blood flow in the brain. When an increased blood flow to a certain brain area is observed, this means that the water distribution changes. The fMRI gives a blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) value. The technique is less accurate than EEG, but the localization is much better.

  • Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS): the quantity of hemoglobin in the brain tissue is examined. This indicates changes in oxygen supply. Thus changes in blood supply can also be measured. The localization is better than the EEG-technique and the fNIRS is more accurate than an fMRI scan. Also, with this technique, a child does not have to lie in a noisy magnet, as is the case with an fMRI scan. The disadvantage is that the accuracy is not as good as EEG and the location capacity not as good as fMRI.

Most known neurological examinations have been carried out in adults. So, we know most of systems that have already been developed with regard to linguistic, perceptual and reasoning tasks. Yet research is increasingly being conducted among children. We know that most brain cells develop before birth (around the seventh month of pregnancy, most neurons are present). The environment in the womb can affect later cognitive development. For example, excessive alcohol consumption has an irreversible negative effect on brain development, which affects future arithmetic cognition.

After birth, brain development mainly consists of the growth of connections between neurons. This is called synaptogenesis. This makes the child's brain twice as large in the first year of life. Information is passed between brain cells via low voltage electrical signals (via the synapses).

The primary sensory systems are the first to develop. The higher-level association areas mature later. One of the last areas of the brain going through the maturation process is the prefrontal cortex.

What are two important developmental questions?

  1. What is developing? This question is investigated by observing the cognitive abilities of children during a certain time. Because of this we know that the sensory- and motor cortex develop earlier than language- and spatial areas and that the prefrontal cortex develops last, far into adolescence and early adulthood. The order of brain development corresponds very well with Piaget's stages of development.

  2. Why does development pursue its observed course? To formulate an answer to this question, we need causal reasoning for observed cognitive changes. Experimental research is suitable for this. In the future we will also receive causal explanations from neuroscientific research.

What are the two important explanatory systems?

Traditionally, there are two explanatory systems for explaining cognitive changes in children. The first system focuses on the idea that fundamentals of learning or reasoning are applied to all cognitive domains. This is called the domain-general explanation of cognitive development. The second system states that the development of cognition arises bit by bit, at different times across different domains. According to this view, cognitive development is domain-specific.

The knowledge that we have influences our cognition. The two explanatory systems described above are both structured differently, but they are not mutually exclusive. This book describes that some types of learning match with the first explanatory system and others with the second. The book focuses more on the first developmental question (what is developing?) and less on the second question (why does development pursue its observed course?). The reason for this is that findings on the first question are generally certain, while opinions on the second question may differ.

How do infants learn and what disabilities are associated with learning?

Infants and toddlers can learn in many different ways. Some examples are learning by imitation, learning by analogies and explanation-based learning. The last-mentioned learning method is asking "why?" questions. Because of the focus on causal information, children can explain, predict and ultimately control events.

What do deduction and induction mean?

Deductive reasoning starts at an early age. Deductive reasoning is reasoning based on examples. In n cases, event X leads to Y. In n cases, event A leads to B. You can investigate this by, for example, changing A to X and seeing if B changes to Y.

Inductive reasoning is observed even at a younger age. We reason inductively when we draw conclusions that are not necessarily deductively valid. We generalize on the basis of a well-known example.

Both in domain-general as well as in domain-specific explanation systems causal deduction can be observed. However, the ability of making causal implications appears to be domain-general.

What is the difference between innate and acquired cognition in children?

In addition to the explanatory models as mentioned earlier, there is also the nature-nurture debate. Should development be explained in terms of genes or in terms of an enriched environment? Research has shown that even structures that rely heavily on genetic influences can be altered based on environmental influences. Gene expression is therefore controlled by the environment. This also means environment within us, such as brain tissue. An important question within cognitive developmental psychology is how genes and environment interact with each other, thus creating development.

Piaget's theoretical framework has long been very important in research into children's cognition development. He distinguished three stages:

  1. Sensory-motor stage: cognition is based on actions.

  2. Concrete operations: cognition is based on the symbolic understanding of concrete objects and their mutual relationship.

  3. Formal operations: cognition is completely separate from the concrete world and is described as hypothesis testing and scientific thinking.

What kinds of knowledge are central to cognitive development? - Chapter 1

Central to the cognitive development of humans are knowledge about the physical world of objects and events, knowledge about the social cognition of the self and others, and knowledge about various things in the world, or conceptual knowledge. These domains can be described as naïve physics, naïve psychology or naïve biology. Children must understand social cognition (to interpret and predict people's behavior on the basis of psychological causation) and they must distinguish between different things that occur in the world. The cognitive development depends on the development of perception, memory, attention, learning and reasoning. After all, all of these processes are needed for most parts of cognition.

It was once thought that cognitive development took place late in life. Piaget, for example, stated that the full object concept (understanding that an object is something that remains, even if it is out of sight) was only present around the age of 18 months. However, this appears not to be the case. Very young children are already developing cognitively by simply looking passively at how things are happening in the world. In addition, they learn from the consequences of direct actions.

Three types of learning are already present at an early stage of development. The first type is associative learning; in the womb, a baby can already make connections between events that are associated. The second type is imitation learning, which is important in the development of social cognition. The third type is explanation based learning that allows infants to make connections between cause and effect. They do this not only by tracing causal relationships, but also by constructing causal explanations for phenomena based on the knowledge they already have.

How can the infant memory be studied?

Bushnell et al. (1984) studied the memory of infants (aged three and seven weeks) by letting parents actively present a stimulus for a period of two weeks (simple shapes in certain colors mounted on a wooden paddle). After two weeks, the researcher offered the child pictures that sometimes differed in color and / or shape from the stimulus that the parents had shown during the two weeks. This research showed that the infants remembered information about the shape, size and color of the objects presented.

Cornell (1979) did a similar study on children from five to six months old and presented photographs of human faces in addition to geometric shapes. Cornell identified recognition by measuring how long a child looked at figures. It was assumed that children would longer look at new stimuli. It turned out that for every set of stimuli children preferred the new stimuli. This means that they recognized the old stimuli. Cornell used a small reminder for the test phase; he quickly repeated the old stimuli. However, this did not appear to influence the results. Because the stimuli were rather abstract, but were still remembered for two days, it can be stated that there is a good development of the recognition memory in young children.

The working memory or short-term memory is the capacity to retain information for a short period of time. The memory span of children aged 5, 7 and 12 months was tested by Rose et al. (2001) by offering stimuli in sets of one, two, three or four items and then pairing them with new items. The number of items that a child recognized was indicated as a memory span. Also, primacy and recency effects were studied. The researchers found that the memory span increases with age and that there is a recency effect for each age. Cornell and Bergstrom (1983) found a primacy effect in children of seven months.

Clifton and colleagues (1990) investigated the memory for events and discovered that six-months-old can remember events well and for a long period of time. This was tested by making the children participate in an experiment at the age of six months. The children had to reach for a Big Bird that made a rattling noise in the light as well as in the dark. Two years later the children were brought to the same laboratory room with the same experimenter to test their memory. They showed little explicit recall of the experiment they had undergone at the age of six months. This was because they showed no preference for the Big Bird compared to other puppets or for the rattling sound compared to other sounds. They did, however, have implicit memories, because they did reach for the Big Bird in the dark without instruction. The control group did not do this. Furthermore, they showed less stress in the dark condition than children from the control group.

Another way to study the memory of events is by using response and reward. With this technique the memory for causal events is examined. This was done by Rovee-Collier et al. (1980) by attaching a piece of string to the ankle of a child. When the child kicked his legs, an attractive mobile was activated above the crib. The children had to learn that kicking caused the movement of the mobile. The memory was tested by measuring how much a child kicked when being put back to the same crib with the mobile after a while. Children of three months old do not forget about it after a period of two to eight days. After fourteen days, however, they completely forgot. As the time between the learning phase and the testing phase lasts longer, these children also forget the specific details about what the mobile looks like and respond to it as if it were a new stimulus. At the same time, as time goes by, the environment (what kind of crib, color, etc.) becomes more important in recognizing the test situation and the contingency of the action and the reward. Details of the learning condition are therefore cues for the reminder of the test situation.

Additionally, a reactivation paradigm was used in this study. Here a reminder is given for a previously learned but apparently forgotten memory that makes this memory available again. In this study, this was done by moving the mobile for three minutes. Infants aged three months show a complete memory with a reminder after 14 and 28 days. Two-month-old infants only after 14 days. Infants of six months hold this memory for at least three weeks.
Children can, therefore, develop long-term memories from a very young age and retrieve those memories using the same cues as in adults.

In eleven-month old infants their long-term memory for events causal (causal events) was examined, by using delayed imitation. This involves the degree of imitation after seeing a certain behavior if there has been some delay between seeing this behavior and its imitation. The children remembered it for at least three months. This only happened when it was about causal events and not about non-causal events.

The implicit or procedural memory is the automatic memory that cannot be expressed verbally. For the memory to be explicit or declarative, the past must be remembered and it must be thought about: this requires consciousness. It is assumed that children can only develop an explicit memory if they also have verbal skills (infantile amnesia), but this does not seem to be true.

How can perception and attention be studied in infants?

For a long time, it was thought that young children play a passive role in selecting visual stimuli. However, it is now thought that a baby's visual world is an active environment over which he has no control. To be able to keep track of all this, a baby must create expectations for events that can be predicted so that they can determine their behavior. Attention and perception in infants are therefore measured by looking at their expectations.

Haith et al. (1988) investigated whether infants could create expectations by showing pictures in a logical order and in a random order. Infants showed a faster reaction time and made more eye movements to the previous picture if the pictures were presented in logical order than if they were presented randomly. At the age of 3.5 months, babies are therefore already in control of their own perceptual (attentional) activity.

Gilmore and Johnson (1995) showed that infants by the age of 6 months can also check their visual attention over delays of 3-5 seconds. They demonstrated this by offering a cue to the left or right of the central point that the infant should look at and then see if the infant had a tendency to look at the side where the cue was presented if a picture was presented 3 or 5 seconds later. The infants held a spatial presentation of the cue in their head and used it to plan their later eye movements.

The visual preference technique examines whether an infant can distinguish between two objects or figures. It is assumed that if an infant can do this, he will look at one of the objects for longer because he has a preference for one. If he cannot do it, he will stare at one object as much as at the other. But if he spends the same amount of time on both objects, it could also mean that he finds them both equally interesting. It is not known for sure whether or not an infant can make the distinction. The habituation paradigm can offer a solution for this. If the same stimulus is repeatedly presented to an infant, the time he looks at the object decreases. If a new stimulus is then presented and the infant looks at the stimulus (dishabituation) for a longer period of time, then he is able to distinguish between the two different stimuli.

Soon after birth, children are able to match perceptual information from different sources (cross-modal perception). Meltzoff and Borton (1979) did an experiment with dummies that showed that 1-month-old babies preferred the picture of the dummy with the texture they had just felt in their mouths. This means that infants can make a cross-modal connection between touch and vision at this age. Spelke (1976) and Dodd (1979) discovered that infants can connect auditory and visual stimuli at an early age by offering films with a corresponding sound or another sound that does not correspond with the image. The children preferred to watch corresponding videos and were a bit confused if the image did not correspond to the sound.

Habituation can also be used to see if a baby realizes that different objects belong to the same category. If two new stimuli are offered, one belonging to a known category and the second to an unknown category, the infant will look longer at the stimulus that belongs to the unknown category if he has mastered this skill. Infants aged three and five months old already have this skill. Children form a prototype (prototype formation) of the known shape and to compare the new stimulus with. This is an important cognitive process. It ensures that as much information as possible can be stored with as little cognitive effort as possible.

Rosch (1978) claims that we categorize the world based on the collective appearance of some characteristics (such as wings and feathers are typically birds). Seeing a pattern in the common occurrence of characteristics is the basis for making prototypes and therefore the basis for conceptual representation.

Younger and Cohen (1983) demonstrated with pictures of cartoon animals that ten-month-old babies were already sensitive to the common occurrence of certain characteristics.

Younger (1985) constructed a study showing that when infants were offered pictures of drawn animals in which all possible combinations of the length of the neck and of the legs were presented together, they formed a prototype with average values ​​(ie average length of the neck and legs). If the characteristics were always presented together (ie long legs and short neck and vice versa), two prototypes were created.

Younger's findings indicate that infants use statistical learning: they learn about statistical patterns, namely the co-occurrence of certain characteristics. Krikham and colleagues (2002) did an experiment with geometric shapes in which certain pairs of objects always followed each other (for example, a green cross was always followed by a yellow circle). They demonstrated that infants can also learn about the structure of the environment at an abstract level. This type of statistical learning is also available in other domains, such as the auditory domain.

The visual world and its perceptual structure

In addition to forming prototypes of statistical characteristics of organisms and objects, it is important for cognitive development that infants can dectect regularities between different events. This is usually described as the relationship between objects (such as: a child pushes the car). This also concerns spatial relationships (above, below, etc.) and quantitative relationships (more than, less than, etc.). For research into this, the violation of expectation paradigm is used, whereby stimuli are offered that conflict with typical regularities in their relationship with objects, creating physically impossible events.

In answering the question of whether an infant is able to see spatial relationships, habituation is used. Hereby an infant first "learns" a spatial relationship. After this, a new spatial relationship is presented. If children look at the new spatial relationship longer, they will be able to distinguish between the perceptual structure of different spatial relationships.

Baillargeon and his colleagues investigated whether five-month-old infants realized that a tall (long) rabbit had to be partially visible if it was walking behind a short wall from left to right. The infants were first introduced in the habituation phase with a short (small) or a tall (long) rabbit walking behind a wall from left to right. As soon as the rabbit passed behind the wall, it disappeared and then reappeared on the right. The middle part of the wall was made shorter in the test phase. The small rabbit could still pass the wall without being seen, but the large rabbit should be visible as it passes the lowered part of the wall. In the experiment this did not happen and the tall rabbit also remained invisible behind the wall. Infants spent a longer time staring at the passing of the tall rabbit in the test phase. This suggests that they understand the spatial relationship between the rabbit and the wall and realize that something is wrong. This is already the case from the age of 3.5 months.

The same researchers also investigated the memory for spatial locations of infants (1988). They presented two locations. A visually attractive object was placed at location A. Two screens were then placed in front of the locations and another visually appealing stimulus was offered to distract the child. After this, the attractive object was obtained from location B. Infants who watched this event for a longer time make the connection that this object cannot come from location B, because it was first located at location A.

Children can therefore remember the location of an object without seeing it: They have understood that an object persists even when it is out of view. Infants from eight months old can keep these spatial memories for up to 70 seconds.

McKenzie seated infants aged six to eight months on their mother's lap behind a semi-circular news desk. At various locations an event was shown that excited the child (an adult person who comes from behind a desk and does 'peekaboo'). The locations where the event was about to take place were first marked with a white ball. Children quickly learned that there was a relationship between the occurrence of an event and the white ball and could therefore predict where the event would take place. The spatial position coding was thus done via the relationship between external signs and the position of the event (allocentric) and not egocentrically, whereby the relationship between one's own position in space and the position of the event is considered.

Object permanence is the idea that an object persists even when it is out of sight. Five-month-old infants were tested for this and stared longer at the impossible condition, in which the object did not form an obstruction for rotating the screen. This means that they understood that the object continued to exist and should therefore actually form a blockade. Further research also varied in the size of the blocking object and the material (sponge vs. wooden block). Infants could use both spatial and physical characteristics to make predictions about whether or not an object would block the screen.

In another study, Baillargeon (1986) demonstrated that infants stared longer at an impossible situation with a car. In the habituation phase, a car was driving off a ramp and a part of its path was hidden by a screen so that the child could not see what was happening behind it. The car then reappeared on the right side of the screen. In the test phase it was shown that there was a box behind the screen that should block the path of the car. The screen was placed in front of the path and the car still appeared on the right side of the screen, while that is actually not possible.

Another study into the relationship between the size of a cylinder and its collision force (a cylinder was rolled into an object which caused the object to move) showed that infants of 6.5 months old and 5.5 month old (girls) are able to use collision-related reasoning about the size and distance relationships in what they see.

Infants aged 6.5 months spend significantly more time looking at an impossible situation where support and stability play a role. A box is placed on a platform and is pushed more and more to the right, so far that at a given moment it is placed 85% over the edge. The box does not fall, while it should fall off. Infants spend significantly more time on this situation than on a reliable situation (30% or no slope). Infants from 5.5 to 6 months cannot make this distinction. Baillargeon et al. believe that these children think that contact with the platform itself provides stability. Experiencing the physical environment plays a role in this. From the age of six months, infants can independently sit in a high chair. They can then see for themselves what happens to objects falling down.

The continuity principle means that objects continue to exist in time and space. This can be investigated by making use of events in which containment plays a role. Baillargeon and colleagues investigated this by showing infants a long and short container in which they put a cylindrical object. The object as a whole could be in the long container, but in the short container, part of the object should normally protrude above the edge.

If an impossible situation is created in the test phase by allowing the cylinder to disappear in its entirety into the short container, children will only show increased looking times at the age of 7.5 months. This is surprising. Infants from the age of 4.5 months are already able to use the relative heights of the object and the container as a cue in a highly similar occlusion condition. Baillargeon and Wang (2004) suggested that children view containment events as different from occlusion events. Infants also see containment events different from events where something is covered because they only look at impossible events that are related to covering an object at the age of twelve months. It is stated that children sort physical events into specific categories and that they learn how to structure each category separately. Physical reasoning is therefore developing in phases.

There is criticism about the use of habituation, visual preference, and violation-of-expectation techniques when studying cognitive processes. These paradigms have been developed for the study of sensory and perceptual processes and not for cognitive processes. According to the critics, it is not possible to produce perceptually identical but conceptually different stimuli for habituation paradigms. Perceptual mechanisms such as novelty, scanning, etc. may also explain longer viewing of certain objects. Haith (1998) claims this and he refers to evidence in neuroscientific research in monkeys. This research indicates that the same neurons are both active when an object is visible and when an object is no longer visible. Haith suggests that this activity may form a neural mechanism for degraded sensory representations. However, recent neurological research suggests that when an individual sees an object, many more brain regions become active (for example, the brain regions that link an object to associating objects and the regions that help reach for the object), which slightly contradicts Haith's arguments. Goswami does not draw a clear conclusion about who is ultimately right.

How are objects processed according to cognitive neuroscience?

EEG is a way to measure electrical activity in the brain by sticking electrodes on the scalp and was used by Kaufman et al. (2003). Kaufman showed infants a train going into a tunnel and then showed them one of the following options:

  1. a hand lifted the tunnel and the train appeared (expected appearance event);

  2. a hand lifted the tunnel and there was no longer a train (unexpected disappearance event);

  3. the train leaving the tunnel, and a hand lifted the tunnel and there was still a train (unexpected appearance event);

  4. the train leaving the tunnel, and a hand lifted the tunnel and there was no longer any train (expected disappearance event).

The six-month-old infants watched an unexpected disappearance event for longer than an expected disappearance event, but there was no difference between the two appearance events. Kaufman measured an increased EEG activity on the right side of the brain with a peak of 500 ms after the tunnel was lifted in an unexpected disappearance event. He suspected that this activity was caused by the brain trying to hold an image, even though that image is not available in the field of view. The higher activity could also be a response to an unexpected event.

If the EEG was measured under the appearance conditions, no increased activity was measured because, according to Kaufman, no effort had to be made to create an image of the train. The train was already in sight. The increased activity was therefore not caused by an unexpected event, because even with the unexpected appearance condition no increased activity was found.

There are two neural pathways along which visual stimuli are processed. The first is the dorsal path, in which spatial and temporal information is processed. This is important when processing information that might require action and is also called the "where" path. The second path is the ventral path (or the "what" path), which is important in processing information that is needed to identify unique objects, such as the color. In addition, the ventral path is important when processing faces. When interpreting infant's looking experiments, the idea that children use these paths should be taken into account. It depends on the objects that are used how the information is processed. Objects to be grabbed at or objects that cause another action are processed via the dorsal path and objects that do not require this are processed via the ventral path. It must also be questioned whether this really influences the research results in certain experiments.

What is the relationship between intelligence at a later age and measurements of learning, memory, perception and attention at an early age?

Bronstein and Sigman (1986) conducted a meta-study that showed that the speed of habituation is related to the degree of intelligence at a later age. Sigman et al. (1986) found in another experiment that when infants aged zero to four months old need to look at a stimulus for a longer time, they score less on intelligence tests later in childhood.

A preference for new stimuli is a significant predictor of intelligence at the age of three. Rose and Feldman (1995) reported that the visual recognition memory was the best predictor of intelligence at the age of eleven.


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Very helpful summary, everything is very thoroughly explained - well done!

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