T. G. Bever and Ralph E. Hansen University of Rochester
Subjects learned to map phrase-structure-defined strings onto geometric figure arrays. "String-generation" subjects produced symbol strings corresponding to arrays; "String-interpretation" subjects constructed arrays corresponding to strings. "Mixed" subjects alternated between these tasks. Subjects' knowledge of symbol sequence acceptability was periodically probed. Mixed subjects learned the structure dramatically faster than other subjects. This suggests that natural acquisition of structure underlying symbol-world mapping systems like language depends on learning multi-directional mappings.
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Humans inevitably construct implicit mental representations to guide their concrete actions and percepts. The research in this paper investigates a theory of the conditions which elicit such formal mental structures. The essence of the theory is that these structures are mental devices which integrate superficially distinct perspectives on a situation. Consider the intuitive formation of a map between home and work. If you always walk from home to work, but get a ride home after dark, there is little basis for developing an intuitive map of the relevant neighborhood. Rather, you can memorize a unilinear series of turns and distances. Contrast this with a situation in which you walk sometimes in each direction: it is intuitively clear (though the relevant research remains largely undone), that you are then much more likely to construct an intuitive map of the area in an abstract representation of the streets and crucial landmarks. The differing perspectives gained from walking in both directions stimulate the instinctive need for a mental representation which is neutral concerning the direction of travel -- namely, a map.
The functional value of such inner mental representations is unquestionable, but the fact that the structures are often functional does not explain their existence, form, or the dynamics of their discovery. In fact, it is frequently the case that humans ascribe unnecessarily elaborate internal structures to superficially regular phenomena. For example, people often intuitively invoke a complex causal schema as the internal structure of a series of events, which might in fact be unrelated; similarly, people may develop overly elaborate hypotheses about the structure of machines, as they learn to control them; finally, people acquire complex grammars with independent interlocking levels of representation to account for the structure of sentences, which might have simpler behavioral descriptions. In each case, the more superficial analysis might be correct or at least more functional -- the person who attributes an unnecessary underlying structure is guilty of a cognitive illusion, the intuitive formation of an incorrect mental representation. As in the study of perception, the importance of such illusions is that they demonstrate the presence of an active set of mental processes which automatically form mental representations during the organization of behavior, regardless of their specific functional role. The
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Publication information: Book title: Program of the Tenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society:17-19 August 1988, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Contributors: Cognitive Science Society - OrganizationName. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of publication: Hillsdale, NJ. Publication year: 1988. Page number: 132.
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