Cognitive Development, Part IV: Representation and Concepts

I have been skeptical of the idea that adults are fully rational, so some passages in the text especially struck me. I prefer Siegler’s (1991b) “skills-first” view of counting development over Gelman’s (1990) “principle-first” orientation, because it fits with my own bias for procedural over declarative knowledge and rationality over rational agency. This is only a bias, however. Additionally, I also enjoyed the authors tying together of infant and adult cognition on pages 115-116 (“At any age period, including, adulthood, the cognitive system has both strengths and weaknesses.”). We do not expects infants to be rational, because infant members of no other species require rationality. Therefore, why should we expect adults to be rational, when adult members of no other species exhibit rationality?

Given my prior interests, I’m disappointed at the lack of examination of group-level genetic diversity. The authors cite two papers by Saxe (1981; 1981) to demonstrate that slow numerical development among New Guineans was because of culture. Certainly cultural variation is one possibility, but the other significant factor that varies between New Guineans and everyone else, race (or at least differences brought on by ancestry), is not addressed. The average IQ of Papua New Guinean s 84, compared with 98 for the United States (Lynn & Vanhanen, 2002). Similarly, the superiority of Americans to Chinese in various aspects of counting (Miller & Stigler, 1987) might be at least partially explained by the fact, also from Lynn & Vanhanen, that no country with a Chinese racial majority scores below 104 on IQ tests. Even if IQ is not highly heritable, which is unlikely (Devlin, Daniels, & Roeder, 1997), more than just “culture” varies between the cradle environment of an American and a Papua New Guinean.

The authors ignorance of race is all the more puzzling, because elsewhere they are not afraid to delve into social issues. Referencing an article which address sexual abuse on page 104, the authors note that children are unable to perform simple tasks with anatomically correct dolls because children become confused over what kind of action they are performing (DeLoache & Smith, 1999). Why are the authors unafraid of political controversial interpretations when it comes to sexual abuse, but not to race? The explanation for the silence, though is clear. The text is slavish is following current lines of research, and race differences is a weak line at best. This is not because of a lack of data, but because of academic censorship. The University of Nebraska’s IRB training procedure, for instance, expressly forbids such research, and I assume that many other universities are quieter in this suppression of knowledge.

To conclude this chapter, the discussion of limited capacity and consequences of child sexual abuse cases was excellence, the wall of silence when it comes to non-cultural group variation was not. This is perhaps the best that could be expected.

Cognitive Development, a tdaxp series
1. Introduction
2. Infant Perception
3. Infant Cognition
4. Representation and Concepts
5. Reasoning and Problem Solving
6. Social Cognition
7. Memory
8. Language
9. Questions and Problems
10. Bibliography

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