Category Archives: UNL / Genetic Development

Adolescent Psychological Development, Part IV: Advanced Psychological Development

In my prior responses to Moshman’s Adolescent Psychological Development (2005), I separated rationality from rational agency, pluralist rational constructivism from the pluralist constructivism of rational agents, and identity from personhood. As “rational moral identity” figures prominently in the fourth section of the book, entitled “Advanced Psychological Development,” it would be reasonable to expect that rational moral identity would itself be separated from something it is not. However, this cannot be done, as rational moral identity is not anything.

This is not to say that Moshman does not precisely describe the concept that is so named. He does so effectively. It involves rational agency, identity, and moral reasoning. Indeed, the “Moral Reasoning Identity of Rational Agents” would be a fair term for the concept. As this term would include only aspects that Moshman presents as preferable, I do not believe he would criticize this construction. Ultimately, “rational moral identity” is not a good term for the same way that “spherical light-source” is not a good term for the sun: it is too broad to be helpful in understanding it.


First, that “rational moral identity” is in fact a moral reasoning identity for rational agents is beyond doubt. Moshman describes moral rationality as “not just rational judgments about what actions are right or wrong but also meta-ethical cognition [emphasis his] concerning the basis for and justification of moral judgments” (116). Moshman’s emphasis on the cognitive as opposed to behavioral aspects of morality is not accidental as later in the same paragraph he explicitly describes himself as “[connecting] the moral domain to the domain of epistemology.” Later, the author writes that “to have a moral identity is to have an explicit theory of yourself as systematically acting on the basis of respect and/or concern for the rights and/or welfare of others” (122), which incorporates both identity and moral reasoning. The term “rational moral identity” would certainly cover all these aspects, but such a term would diminish the contrast between a morally reasoning identity for rational agents and rational moral personhood, a traditional concept of development with which Moshman’s ideas conflict.

Rational moral personhood contrasts with rational agency-moral reasoning-identity for the reasons previously described in these essays. Rationality contrasts with rational agency as it rests on metacognition as opposed to fully-self-justified beliefs. Morality contrasts with moral reasoning as its contrasts with behaviors as opposed to explicit cognitive reasoning. Personhood contrasts with identity in its embrace of what is universal among thinking humans as opposed to what is particular of those with the aptitude and inclination toward introspective explicit justification.

Moshman concludes his eleventh chapter by writing “the promotion of rationality should be the primary purpose of education” (134). Interpreting this use of “rationality” to mean mere metacognition is probably besides the point. The twelfth and final chapter of the book, “Rationality and Liberty in Secondary Education,” ponders mainly what a school system designed to promote rational agency-moral reasoning-identity would look like. If rational moral personhood is a different goal, how then might the educational infrastructure function?

In support of the rational agency / moral reasoning / identity trinity, Moshman writes that “We want [students], above all, to be conscious of themselves as thinking, willing, active beings, bearing responsibility for their choices, and able to explain those choices by reference to their own ideals and purposes” (138). A proponent of enculturating rational moral personhood in the young, on the otherhand, might write that we went students, above all, to think rightly, to will rightly, to be rightly, and to continue to makes right choices in the face of criticism.” The focus would then not be on academic freedom but on academic rightness.

This embrace of rightness, arete, as an educational goal (see also Pirsig, 1976) recalls virtue, a concept touched on in “Eudaimonist Conceptions of Morality as Virtue,” from pages 62 to 64. However, eudaimonism applies to neither of our conceptions. Moshman correctly criticizes the eudaimonist agenda as failing the need to “establish rationality” (64). Further, I add that the section address only eudaimonism is a framework for moral reasoning, that is cognition about morality. In contrast, rational moral personhood focus on moral behaviors, whether cognitive or physical.

Thus, a true contrast between rational agency/moral reasoning/identity and rational moral personhood has yet to be written.

It is a discussion for another time.


Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

Adolescent Psychological Development, Part III: Identity Formation

Imagine an individual who has agency, that is this individual “engages in actions and thus has (or at least attempts to have) an impact in the world” (Moshman, 2005, 91). This individual shows “a sufficient degree of behavioral consistency across contexts” (92) such that one might say he possesses singularity. This individual believes he existed in the past, exists now, and that in all probability he will continue to exist in the future; this individual possess “continuity.” This individual is rational, possesses metacognition, and as such knows to not distract himself while working on some particular difficult task. Further, imagine this individual regularly engages in fantastically risky, pointless, or destructive behavior, and when questioned about it cannot form any semblance of a coherent motive.

In other words, imagine this individual is four.

Can we say only this individual is a person? Certainly only those who support abortion in the 19th trimester would say no. Can we say this individual is a rational agent? Only those of infinite patience and charity would say yes. Thus, I fervently agree with Moshman (2005, 93) that there are at least four aspects of personhood: “agency, rationality, singularity, and continuity.” And yet I fully disagree with him when, in the very next sentence, he writes “At the very least, persons are rational agents extending across time, acting in diverse contexts on the basis of their own reasons, and responsible for their actions [emphasis mine].”


In the same way I earlier cleaved rationality from rational agency, I now separate personhood from identity. I accept Moshman’s definition of identity as a “theory of oneself” … that is “coherent” or “organized to generate an integrated conception” and “explanatory” or “structured in such a way as to enhance self-understanding” and further is “explicit” and therefore “known to the individual” (90-91).

To have an identity in the manner that Moshman uses the term requires rational agency. Certainly there are other views on this (see Maalouf, 2001, for a particularly readable exposition), but it is a fair explanation that the requirements for identity outlined above more than fulfill the requirements for rational agency held previously. To steal Moshman’s style, I say at the very least, persons with identity are rational agents.

In an earlier essay, I left it open whether rationality agency was rational. However, if rational agency is viewed as merely a means of achieving identity, then perhaps a better question can be ask: is it rational to achieve an identity? Of course, it would be irrational to view identity as an end in itself. So what other ends does identity co-vary with? Does it bring about objective benefits or at least benefits that can be agreed upon, by the means symmetrical social interaction, as valuable?

Certainly there are intersubjective and circular benefits toward identity. For instance, ethnic identity leads to higher reported feelings towards one’s ethnic group (Phinney, Cantu, & Kurtz., 1997), which is another way of saying that self-congratulatory explicit attitudes lead to self-congratulatory explicit attitudes. Note though that, at least among blacks, these benefits exist in the absence of cultural or material well-being (Taylor & Walsch, 1979) or even implicitly favorable views of their own ethnicity (Ashburn-Nardo, Knowles, & Monteith, 2003). Rather, what is needed is evidence extending the benefits of identity to something concrete: for instance, general intelligence, life-expectancy, wealth, income, (im)probability of dying a violent death, etc.

Further, even if these are shown, it must also be demonstrated that the “benefit” is caused by, and not a cause of, the identity. As late as 2005, for instance, Moshman could write that “no one believes that political or religious commitments are genetically determined” when it now it appears that just that is partially the case (Alford, Funk, & Hibbing, 2005; Hatemi, et al., 2007). Identity can no more assumed to be (completely) environmentally determined than politics is.

It may well be wise to define personhood such that all members of the species homo sapiens qualify. Even a more restrictive definition surely include preschool tots. Identity though is more narrowly defined, and this narrow definition allows an open debate on whether fostering it is a worthwhile goal. At least for now, the jury is out.


Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

Adolescent Psychological Development, Part II: Moral Development

Near the end of the second section of Adolescent Psychological Development, entitled “Moral Development,” Moshman lays out the metatheory (essentially a paradigm or research program) of “pluralist rational constructivism” as a way of understanding moral development. It is hard to argue with this However, the metatheory as laid out is different than the metatheory as analyzed. While later in this essay I will defend the concept of “pluralist rational constructivism,” as Moshman uses the term he means “pluralistic contructvism by rational agents.”

Starting on page 71 and continuing for two pages, Moshman gives five “metatheoretical assumptions” for pluralist rational cosntructivism. They are that “rationality is fundamentally a matter of metacognition rather than a matter of logic,” that the existence “moral universals” is independent of the truth of the metatheory, that “research on moral development should seek evidence for both diversity and universality,” that a distinction of “symmetric from asymmetric social interactions” is useful for distinguishing “between the properties inherent to social interchange and those specific to a particular culture,” and lastly that “reflection on rules generates principles that explain and justify those rules and that may lead to the reconstruction of such rules.” The first two of these are easy to agree with: that rationality is essentially metacognition was acknowledged in my previous paper, and that empirical truths do not rely on normative truths is a truism in science. The third assumption, likewise, is acceptable. While social science is often view as the explanation of variance by means of correlation and regression, the study of human universals is also permitted when humanity itself is viewed as part of a larger population of primates, mammals, animals, or even objects. The last two assumptions, the symmetric-asymmetric distinction and the reconstruction of rules from introspection, and more problematic. Each are discussed below.


As the term is used by Moshman, pluralist rational constructivism relies on symmetric social interaction. Summarizing Habermas (1990), the author views asymmetric social interaction as “privileging the moral perspectives of some individuals over others” (70) and later suggests that it is these non-symmetric interactions that “may be a source of moral diversity” (72). Moshman certainly has intellectual support for his claims, as other researchers (Schwartz, 1995; von Glaserfield, 1995) hold much the same. Clearly, power differentials in bargaining games (of which social interaction is a sort) matter, and the greater the power differential the more it may be expected to matter, so that the outcome will depend more on social context and less on critical belief formation. Note what is happening here, however: the importance of peer interaction is supported in the context of rational agency, but not in the context of rationality (metacognition). Indeed, some of the greatest thinking on metacognition (Coram, 2004) and best applications of it (Fadok, Boyd, & Warden, 1995) occur in the lethally asymmetric environment of war. Considering how asymmetric environments tend to be crises where metacognition is most useful, it is even arguable that rationality is best developed in asymmetric relationships. The broad conclusion is clear: symmetric social interactions may be necessary for the development of rational agency, but they are not needed in the context of rationality.

The last assumption is problematic as well. Introspection is simply an activity that people are not good at (Wilson, Lindsey, & Schooler, 2000; Wolford, Miller, & Gazzaniga, 2000). The finding of Camerer, Loewenstein, & Prelec (2005, 37) that the “fact that people lack introspective access to the sources of their own judgments and behavior, and tend to overattribute both to controlled processes has many important implications for economics” should be extended to moral development, as well. If “game-theoretic equilibrium resulted from learning, imitation, or evolution, rather than simple introspection” (50), then why cannot the same be said of morally rational equilibrium as well? If introspection is so weak, then why is relying on it rational?

I propose an alternative formulation of pluralist rational constructivism, one that abandons the uncertain ground of rationality agency for the solid land of rationaltiy. This formulation has three metatheoretical assumptions: pluralism, rationality, and constructivism. Pluralism is the idea that no universal moral development should be expected, because of variation within and between human groups. Rationality, the focus on metacognition, holds that morality is not just a blind execution of affects but requires mental control. Constructivism is the belief that “people play an active role in their own development” (Moshman, xix) and amounts to saying that, at the present time, it is useful to use the self as an independent variable.

Support pluralist rational constructivism. Support pluralism. Support rationality. Support constructivism. Oppose the chimera of rational agency.


Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

Adolescent Psychological Development, Part I: Cognitive Development

My reaction to David Moshman’s Adolescent Psychological Development (2005) is of a different sort than my nine-part reaction to Cognitive Development by Flavell, Miller, & Miller. There, I found parts of the chapter that interested me and typically criticized it, sometimes throwing in articles I was already familiar with in the process. The reason for this is that I am not all that interested in child cognitive development. Children start out small and cute and whiny and, unless they are horribly mistreated, seem to end up all right in the end.

The same is not true of adults, and adolescents certainly are adults. Indeed, it’s not clear if adults actually can be all right at all. Moshman nears his conclusion by writing “Objectivity, in this view, is a guiding ideal, not an achievable goal” (46) and much of the chapter is written in the rhetoric of limitation. I agree with this approach. Man is a flawed species, and educational psychologists must embrace those flaws to device a truly human education.


Adolescent Psychological Development (the field and the book) properly centers on two concepts: rationality and rational agency. To the best of my understanding, I agree completely with Moshman’s description of both rationality and rational agency. If I do have a disagreement with Moshman, it is this: the latter is not necessary for the former.

“Rationality, in its oldest, broadest and deepest sense,” Moshman (16) writes, “is a matter of having good reasons for one’s beliefs and actions.” This rationality “consists in large part of appropriately applying and coordinating our various reasoning processes” (25). Clearly agreeing with certain theoriests, Moshman on the same page writes that they “see metacognition, broadly construed, as central to rationality” and concludes two pages later that “The development of rationality, as suggested in the previous section, is in large part the development of metacognition.”

Moshman describes a “rational agent” as “an individual who uses epistemic cognition to engage in reasoning” (25). Epistemic cognition is “knowledge about the fundamental nature and justifiability of knowledge and inference” (27). Therefore, a rational agent is he who uses knowledge about knowledge to determine what is true and what is false, or put another way a rational agent is he who justifies his beliefs with a developed argument.

Rationality is thus executive control over one’s cognition, whereas rational agency is rational control over one’s belief. Rational agency is an extension of rational agency, and might even be considered a domain-specific application of rationality. However, (and here I believe I disagree with Moshman) it should not be assumed that rationality agency, whether engaged in or encouraged in others, is itself rational. Rather, if belief formation is under rational control then one must have good reasons why one must have good reasons, or at least better reasons to rely on good reasons than not to rely on them with respect to belief formation. The literature does not support such a stance.

A first approach to the question, is it rational to rely on rational agency, would be to determine if people who have good reasons for their actions in some domain are better than those who do not. Published articles with titles such as “Thinking too much: introspection can reduce the quality of preferences and decisions” (Wilson & Schooler, 1991) suggest, at least when beliefs involve outcomes that actually matter, there is such a thing as too much thought. A concrete example is an experiment where students were allowed to take a poster for free, but one in condition had to present reasons why they chose the poster they did (Wilson, et al. 1993). This rational agency condition resulted in lower satisfaction than was otherwise the case.

Camerer, Loewenstein, & Prelec (2005) divided cognition into four “quadrants”, with “cognitive” and “affective” as columns and “controlled processes” and “automatic processes” as rows (16). Rational agents, desiring to control their reasoning, would be left with one of only four of these quadrants to work with. Yet there is much to life beyond controlled cognition! Automaticity, the movement of thinking in a domain from controlled via “repeated rehearsals” (Cramer, 2006, 4), has been demonstrating in many fields of thought (Morris, Taber, & Lodge., 2003). The role of automaticity in expertise is beyond argument. However, affect is also important. Affect, or emotions broadly defined, combined both information about a task and a utility assessment of the worth of the task. Better to have access to expertise, information, and utility than to be a mere rational agent. Better to exploit all your cognition than just one quadrant of it.

The goal of this first reaction on Adolescent Psychological Development is to describe rationality and rational agency, and begin the work of separating the two concepts. The next thee sections of the book, “Moral Development,” “Identity Formation,” and “Advanced Psychology Development,” will provide the framework for more in-depth discussion of rationality and the benefits of irrational agency. These reactions will build to a discussion of rational moral personhood, the development of which is the proper goal of education.


Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

Adolescent Psychological Development, Part V: Bibliography

The works cited in the four reaction papers to Moshman’s Adolescent Psychological Development appear below. While the bibliography to my previous series, Cognitive Development, ran five single-spaced pages in my word processor, this document only takes up one. The A’s appear above the fold. The rest appear below.

Alford, J., Funk, C., & Hibbing, J. (2005) Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted? American Political Science Review, 99(2), 154-168.
Ashburn-Nardo, L., Knowles, M.L., & Monteith, M.J. (2003). Black Americans’ implicit racial associations and their implications for intergroup judgement. Social Cognition, 21(1), 61-87.


Camerer, C., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2005). Neuroeconomics: How neuroscience can inform economics. Journal of Economic Literature, 43(1), 9-64.
Corman, R. (2004). Boyd: The fighter pilot who changed the art of war. New York: Back Bay Books.
Craemer, T. (2006). Evolutionary model of racial attitude formation: Socially shared and idiosyncratic racial attitudes. Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior.

Fadok, D.S., Boyd, J., & Warden, J. (1995). Air power’s quest for strategic paralysis. Maxwell Air Force Base AL: Air University Press

Habermas, J. (1990). Moral consciousness and communicative action. Cambridge, MA: HIT Press.
Hatemi, P.K., Medland, S.E., Morley, K.I., Heath, A.C., & Martin, N.G. (2007). The genetics of voting: An Australian twin study. Behavioral Genetics, 37(3), 435-448.
Maalouf, A. (2001). In the name of identity: Violence and the need to belong. New York: Arcade.

Morris, J.P., Squires, N.K., Taber, C.S., & Lodge, M. (2003). Activation of political attitudes: A psychophysiological examination of the hot cognition process. Political Psychology, 24(4), 727-745.
Moshman, David. (2005). Adolescent Psychological Development (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Phinney, J.S., Cantu, C.L., & Kurtz, D.A. (1997). Ethnic and American identity as predictors of self-esteem among African American, Latino, and White adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 26, 165-185.
Pirsig, R.M. (1975). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. New York: Bantam Books.

Schwartz, D.L. (1995). The Emergence of Abstract Representations in Dyad Problem Solving. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 4, 321-354.

Taylor, M.C. & Walsh, E.J. (1979). Explanations of black self-esteem. Some empirical tests. Social Psychology Quarterly, 42(3), 242-253.

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). A Constructivist Approach to Teaching. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wildon, T.D., Lisle, D.J., Schooler, J.W., Hodges, S.D., Klaaren, K.J., LaFleur, S.J. (1993). Introspecting about reasons can reduce post-choice satisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19(3), 331-339.
Wilson, T., Lindsey, S., & Schooler, T. (2000). A model of dual attitudes. Psychological Review, 107(1), 101-126.
Wilson, T.D. & Schooler, J.W. (1991). Thinking too much: introspection can reduce the quality of preferences and decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(2): 181–192.
Wolford, G., Miller, M.B., & Gazzaniga, M. (2000). The left hemisphere’s role in hypothesis formation. Journal of Neuroscience, 20(6), 1-4.


Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

Adolescent Psychological Development, Inroduction: Rationality, Morality, and Identitty

I’ve fully read David Moshman’s Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity twice and went over it a third time. The first was as a required text in Adolescent Psychology, the second was to study for comps, and a third was for writing this series of reactions.


The Second Edition (2005)

Moshman’s book doubles both as a text on adolescent development and a philosophical exposition on “rational moral identity,” the fostering of which the author identifies as the primary purpose of education. Moshman uses the first three sections to define each of these concepts independently, and ties with together with a feeling of inevitable logic.

I disagree with the author’s purpose, and in several places try deconstruct some terms that he uses as near-synonyms (for example, rationality and rational agency) in order to throw doubt on “rational moral identity” and hold up an alternative. I have the pleasure of studying under this intellectual, and the free debate he encourages are a testament to himself, the department, and the university.

Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

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

Cognitive Development, Part VIII: Language

The eighth chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s Cognitive Development, entitled “Language,” ties into my prior learning more than any other section of the book. One of the two first books I read to understand how biology effects behavior was Pinker (2002), so I was even familiar with some of the specific findings. In fact, in one case I am a step-ahead of the authors!

Having made it this far through my reactions, you are aware that I believe that group ancestry is not given the weight it deserves – or any attention at all – in academic research. Summing up unfortunate the consensus, the authors write that “No one believes that children are prepared by evolution to learn English or Japanese; whatever biological pretuning there may be must work for any language that the child happens to encounter…” (316). Well, maybe. The genes ASPM and Microcephalin occur more often among tonal language speakers than nontonal language speakers (Dediu & Ladd, 2007). Further, one of these genes (ASPM) effects brain size (Mekel-Bobrov et al, 2005) and is not just a product of evolution, but is undergoing evolution right now (Evans, 2005). While we cannot say conclusively that a gene undergoing rapid evolution that effects the brain and is non-randomly distributed so that it is common among tonal language speakers and uncommon among atonal language speakers, it’s surely a good bet. With this sort of finding, we may be coming to the day where the emergence of differences between groups (such as babies no longer sounding the same all over the world, see Boysson-Bardies, 1999) to something more than culture.


Add to all this the recent findings that ability to listen to multiple sound-sources at once is largely genetically determined (Morell, 2007)…

Another topic that I paid attention to in the chapter, but one I know much less about and unrelated to the first, is how new findings relate to the Piagetian notion of assimilation and accommodation. For instance, take the finding that a third of the first 75 words learned by infants were used too broadly (Rescorla, 1980). My understanding of Piaget’s process is that concepts should expand outward by assimilation until they are cleaved in accommodation. By this logic, most if not all words should be overextended. I can see two counter-arguments: either our measurement techniques are not fine enough to detect the true rate of verbalization, or else (as the authors imply on pages 315-316) language occurs separately from the rest of cognition. The authors statement on page 312 that no Piagetian framework has been found for grammar supports the latter explanation, as does the fact that language, unlike most skills, is learned best younger and worst older (Johnson & Newport, 1989) and as does the finding that overextension is more performance based than knowledge based (Hoek, Ingram, & Gibson, 1986).

I wonder if future high-level textbooks on child cognitive development will even include a chapter on language. Language is so different from everything, and learning language so different from every other sort of learning, that linguistic cognition may not be “cognition” at all. (Of course, this begs the question what other forms of thinking should not be so-called?)

My conclusion ties into how I began this chapter. My recognition of the possible role of diversity in ancestry in explaining the observed diversity of traits owes a lot to the man who introduced me to neo-nativism generally. While Pinker (2007) disagreed with the notion, he outlined in a clear and reasonable way what population-level genetic diversity would mean and how we would begin testing it. Because linguistic scientists are blessed with a tremendous amount of data (both the fact that even babies love to listen to words and naturally love to babble (Locke, 1983), as well as the new CHILDS Database (MacWhinney, 1995), I believe they have been less theory-bound than many other social scientists. Linguists have been at the front of the effort to incorporate the second half of variables – those that are genetic or innate – into social science research. We are all the luckier for their work.


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

Cognitive Development, Part VII: Memory

The seventh chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s Cognitive Development, entitled “Memory,” has the broadest implications yet. From broad topics like intelligence and genetics, to foreshadowing an experiment I plan to conduct in the next year, this chapter was fascinating.

I found it fascinating that later intelligence can be predicted from habituation speed (Bornstein & Sigman, 1986). I wonder if this is also true of adults? I also wonder what the heritability of this behavior is, especially as compared to the heritability of general intelligence, where respectable estimates range from .86 (Posthuma, 2002) to half that figure (Devlin, Daniels, & Roader, 1997)?


Still, Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s blindness to ancestry as an independent variable, even in the discussion, is aggravating. Their non-view of group-level genetic diversity, reminiscent of nothing so much as the Victorians’ non-view of sex, continues with considering culture but not race as factors in difference between Korean and American mother-to-infant speech (Muellen & Yi, 1995) or differences in acquiring number counting between Chinese and American children (Geary, Fan, Bow-Thomas, & Siegler, 1993).

The blinders when it comes to race are all the more frustrating, because when it comes to intelligence or behavior the authors are much less absolutist. For instance, reporting the finding that “Children of repetitive mothers tend to recall less and have less organized memories” the authors conclude that “the mother’s style is ‘pass on’ to the child” (242, abstracted from Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1993). Indeed, that is exactly what the findings show. Is the behavior passed on environmentally, genetically, or as an interaction? Who knows? That is the proper way to do science. (In the context of the above, it would be interesting to see if beginning of numeracy or even finger-tapping rates (Guttentag, 1984) are heritable. I would assume they were.)

Also interesting was the section on eyewitness testimony. There’s good reason to be skeptical of child testimony (Sagan, 1997). Indeed, one “survivor” even believed he had been eaten alive (Goodman, Aman, & Hirschman, 1987)! Likewise, children’s increased likelihood to change their answers under repeated questioning (Cassel, Roebers, & Bjorklund, 1996) acalls into question how much of standard procedure can even be used with question. One wonders if the fact that “children with higher theory-of-mind scores were less likely to be misled” implies that childhood reliability varies with intelligence. In other words, does the link between childhood abuse and cognitive issues like short-term memory loss (Bremner, et al., 1995) go both ways?

I was happy where the chapter noted that learning skills takes time because performing then can be “rather effortful, challenging, and attention demanding as an act in itself for young children” (251, summarizing Guttentag, 1997). This emphasizes that skills are just narrow domains that operate under the same rule as creativity anywhere else: that is, through time and purposeful practice (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Ross, 2006). Considering the children are indeed “universal novices” (257, quoting Brown & DeLoache, 1978), the purpose of childhood education should be to teach expertise in those skills that do not come naturally and that they actually need. Instead, too many schools focus on “comprehension,” building up loose semantic nets that do not help much. Expertise counts for more than learning-speed (Schneider et al, 1989), that is intelligence, so schools should focus on building that .

To end this paper, I enjoyed the section on megacognitive experiences that began on page 264. In my own research, I’ve enjoyed discovering the limits of metaknowledge among students, particularly knowledge of their own behaviors. With regards to a wider theme of unexpectedly competent babies and unexpectedly incompetent late adolescents, it is interesting that even two year olds experience “feelings of knowing (DeLoache & Brown, 1984) about facts in the past, while in my studies I found 19 year olds not knowing what they will do in the future.


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

Cognitive Development, Part VI: Social Cognition


Autism, and other disorders that impede social awareness, was also a theme of the chapter. I enjoyed the authors breakdown into the conditions of existence, need, and inference (for which they cite Flavell, 1974, among others). I was a pretty clueless kid, so I spent much of my childhood knowing that other people thought, and needing to know their thoughts, but relatively unable to do the “mind reading” (193). Older research into very young children confused theory of mind with manipulative competence. Very young children, and perhaps all sufferers of autism-spectrum disorders, may be perfectly aware that other human beings possess agency and have emotional states or something like it, but being able to do something about it is something else entirely.

As in other chapters, population-level human diversity is ignored. Without going into a rant, the authors ignore population level genetic diversity in explaining differences in development between Indians and Americans (J. Miller, 1987). Likewise, a contrast between the autonomy-interdependency focus (Markus & Katiyama, 1991) contrasts Japanese to Americans culturally, rather than genetically. While I bring up the former study merely to show how conclusions are jumped to in the current academic environment, the conclusion of the latter is downright troubling as the genetic variant responsible for novelty-seeking, attention-deficit,, and other (presumably non harmonious) behaviors exists at many times the Japanese rate in America (Ding, 2002). The more reasonable people prefer to ignore scientific findings, the more those findings will be shared in the public’s perception by unreasonable people. Now that we live in a world where descent with modification by means of natural selection has been observed with a population that did not even exist before Christopher Columbus (Tang, et al., 2007), maintaining populations separated for thousands of years cannot vary in more than just their environment is naïve.

My preferred model for how people interact with each other, to move on, is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, or OODA, loop (Fadok, Boyd, & Warden, 1995). The OODA loop was designed for life-critical operations (von Lubitz, Carrasco, Levine, & Richir, 2004), and so fits in with “self-preservation” as one of the goals of social cognition (Flavell, Miller, & Flavell, 2002). OODA, “a model of decision making than a model of individual and organizational learning and adaptation” (Osinga, 2007 5). The OODA view informs my bias against thoughtful decision making, as it allows decision-making to be skipped entirely if one’s orientation can inform ones action through “implicit guidance and control” (McCrabb, 2002). Like genetic population differences, the reason the OODA loop does not appear in this book is understandable: it is not the subject of ongoing academic research. While the OODA model hosts a productive research program within the military, such literature is obviously of limited to use child cognitive psychologists.

To conclude: rationality is valuable, mind reading is hard, populations differ, and my favorite model of social cognition is not particularly academic. Sigh. So much to learn, so little time.


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