Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

27
Thoughts on Thinking in the Thoughtless Infant

Wendell E. Jeffrey University of California, Los Angeles

My research career started over 35 years ago with a primary focus on discrimination learning in preschool children. The stage had been set by the research of Birge ( 1941) and Kuenne ( 1946). The theoretical framework was provided by Dollard and Miller ( 1950), who had elaborated on the role language might play to facilitate discrimination learning and particularly transfer. A considerable amount of research over the next decade investigated the role of language in learning and transfer. Although that research did not result in the outright rejection of Dollard and Miller's acquired distinctiveness hypothesis, the end result was a shift of focus to attention as the critical variable in children's learning. Difficulty was attributed to task or performance variables that tended either to distract the subjects attention or to usurp channel capacity.

From our research on discrimination learning it became obvious that we were not looking at perceptual ability but problem solving, and we could make the problem simple or difficult by manipulating the responses that were required of the subject. It also was clear that answers to questions regarding perceptual development would need to be sought in younger subjects, infants.

The research of the 1930s was crude; there was some in the early 1950s using habituation that indicated some auditory discrimination in newborns. Then there was Fantz' ( 1961) incredible demonstration of visual form discrimination on the basis of visual preferences, a clear embarrassment to any empiricist. Even though the preference technique worked well, those of us with learning theory backgrounds favored the habituation-recovery paradigm. That technique at last gave us a curve. On the other hand, the road ahead was not smooth. Heart rate acceleration to auditory stimuli turned to deceleration when subjects were around 3-months-of-age. There were other

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