Epigenetic Foundations of Knowledge Structures: Initial and Transcendent Constructions
Rochel Gelman University of California, Los Angeles
Students of cognitive development no longer treat infants as passive receivers of inputs; it is generally assumed, rather, that infants are actively involved in the construction of their own representations. In the empiricist tradition, learning is the absorption of relatively unstructured input followed by the associative induction of the rules that give the input structure. In this view, the appropriate environment is an environment that repeatedly presents the items to be associated, such as words and their referents or fractions, and the kinds of things to which they may refer. In the constructivist tradition, by contrast, learning is the construction of a model of the world and is guided by model-building principles. These model-building principles may use as a basis of induction inputs that are not temporally or spatially paired and that are related in complex ways to the inductions drawn from them. Furthermore, some of these model-building principles may operate only during the construction of the initial stages of the model, causing the learner to attend to inputs and aspects of the structure of inputs that are not salient to the adult.
Given that children do not possess the adult model for a given domain of understanding and that the model-building principles that enable them to acquire that model do not focus on the aspects of the domain that are rendered salient by the to-be-acquired adult model, the kinds of inputs necessary to foster their acquisition of the adult model may differ dramati-