Cognitive Development, Part IX: Questions and Problems

I have written this paper before. It was quite good. It was also overwritten, by me, before I could make a back-up. I attempted to recover the file but could not. Instead of trying to create an imitation of my previous work, or starting from scratch, I will use this opportunity to briefly summarize what I said before and look forward to what should be done in the future. This is done as the final chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s Cognitive Development (2002), “Questions and Problems,” is largely dedicated to the current state of active research programs within childhood cognitive development. This last section is therefore as informative on the cognitive research as it should be as the latest bulletin of the Nebraska Corn Board is to the metaphysical meaning of agriculture.

To summarize what was said before: With few exceptions, currently active research programs are blind the reality of genetic diversity on a group level. When group differences are immediately attributed to present environment/culture factors without consideration for genetic or epigenetic forces, important discoveries are forfeit. The past few years have seen new findings which smashed the prior conceptions of myself and many others. As reductionist scientists, it is our obligation to throw those that remain against the wall of genotypic polymorphism. In this way we can separate diamonds from glass.

In other words, my summary is nothing I have not said before.

Further, I confess I am not particularly interested in the questions of childhood cognitive development. Most children turn out acceptably functional, and even the sorry state of American schools does not prevent America from having a highly capable adult workforce (Barone, 2003). Therefore, the question I ask and the problem I try to solve (the riff off the title of the chapter) is this: “What do we need to do to produce capable, moral citizens?” Or, to use a term I will reintroduce later: how do we create rational moral persons? A research program designed to provide an answer should demonstrate its validity from the literature, from experimental investigation, and from external validation. As this proposed program is not a casual musing but rather something that actually needs to done, I will write it as a practical guide.

An investigation into prior requires defining rational moral personhood and defending that it against other conceptions. This in turn must rely on a vocabulary of epistemological and education discourse. Fortunately, our university has developed these resources, both theoretically (Moshman & Geil, 1998), and metatheoretically (Moshman, 2007). In the near term, my next four essays on Moshman (2005) will also address this aspect of the needed research as well.

An investigation into behavior under controlled conditions requires experiments. I’ve completed two experiments (tdaxp & Johnson, 2006; tdaxp, 2007) building off the ultimatum game (Nowak, Page, & Sigmund, 2000) which, among other findings, reveal a lack of introspection about cooperative tendencies. Future work could be done to instigate how changes in declarative knowledge (which, being explicit, is similar to identity) compares with changes in procedural knowledge (which, being implicit, is closer to behavior) in impacting cooperation.

An investigation into behavior under uncontrolled conditions requires interviews. I previously (tdaxp & Gleason, 2006) contrasted the importance of identity against the importance of proper behavior in a small-n, non-IRB mixed-methods pilot study. This should be expanded into a larger-n, IRB-approved, quantitative study. Measures of identity can be contrasted against measures of correct behavior in determining some measure of creativity. Creativity is a complex area of research where cognitivist (Weisberg, 1993), identity-based (Petkus, 1996), and mixed approaches (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) battle each other. A firm result, as was found in the pilot study, might help resolve the issue.

This question that must be answered can be summarized as follows: what should education be? That education should foster rationality, that is metacognition, is beyond doubt. Students unable to control their mental processes will not be able to function in a complex, demanding world. Beyond that, the problem facing our society is whether students should primarily be encouraged to be belief-forming processing or rightness-executing persons.

On one level the question is metaphysical and beyond science. But on another, in the realm of what works, theoretical, experimental, and investigative research must be our guide.

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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