The Brain and Cognitive
School of Family and
Consumer Sciences 400.404/504
Instructor: D. Witt
The term cognitive
refers to the abilities of the mind: thinking,
deliberating, sorting, recognizing, and so on. Here's a
little history of psychology and sociology on this
Social Scientific Thinking: Around 1850 the
scientific world began thinking about the human mind as
an organ (moving away from the heart as the prime mover
of behavior). This resulted in Freud's
psychoanalytic theory of personality development,
among many other theories. Around this time, Charles
Darwin began to publish work dealing with the
evolution of species - an idea that was borrowed and
popularized by Herbert Spencer to explain the
way in which entire societies evolved or
About 1930, George Herbert Mead devised his notions
about personality development - with a strong social
component - later to be termed symbolic interaction
theory. He postulated that the human mind
could only develop in a distinctly human way by having
its owner interact with other human beings. In
other words, we all think a lot alike because we learn
to think from like minded folk: A precursor to Cognitive
Development Theory , Mead's theories stated that we move
through a series of stages from infancy on the way
During these stages of personality development, we are
absorbing the information in the environment around us,
most specifically through interaction with other human
beings.These people (significant others) explain
behavioral expectations to us,demand obedience from
us,teach us the way to act out our lives.
Taking the Role of the
: We learn to be fit candidates
for social interaction via regular socialization
processes provided by our culture. George Herbert Mead
described these processes in his notion of Taking
the Role of the Generalized Other, which is one of the
first stage theories to come after Freud, and an
alternative to Psychoanalytic Theory :
Freud's model of personality development has been
characterized as the "iceberg", with the conscious part
barely sticking up out of the water, the preciousness
part (the Ego and Superego) just under the
surface, the unconscious part (the ID) being
mostly submerged and difficult to access.
If one were to draw Mead's idea of personality, it would
have the Inner Self (the "I") residing in the safety of
a circle that is surrounded by bits of armor he would
call roles. In early life, there are no roles,
leaving the individual completely at the mercy of the
social world. Over time, and through social interaction
after the acquisition of language, roles are developed
one by one and constantly developed and honed through
practice (playing roles). At some point, the
preponderance of common characteristics of all the roles
gels into a generalized, acceptable social personality
with the ability to change function and form as the
social world demands.
- Stage 1 is the Egocentric Stage 0-2 or 3 years
- The individual
is all "me". Here the infant, having yet to
acquire language skills, is a needful entity with a
powerful intellect. At birth, the infant only knows
the feelings/sensations of its "here and now"
existence - hunger, thirst, comfort, pleasure, and
pain. Quickly, the infant learns from caregivers to
use symbolic speech to transmit its wishes to
- Stage 2 is the Play Stage 2 or 3 to 7 years
- Here the toddler is beginning to use symbolic
speech in ever increasingly complex ways. From the
world around him/her, the toddler associates the
social elements that go together to form a social
role. Through Play, the child imagines social
relationships and acts them out (i.e., playing
cowboys, hospital, dolls, house, or games). By the
end of the Play Stage, the child is able to bring
off solid imitations of favorite cultural icons,
such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power
Rangers. They understand that to be a real Power
Ranger, one needs a uniform, super powers, and an
attitude! (In my childhood, Superman was the
nuts! My repertoire of play roles included a highly
developed Superman, complete with a sensitivity to
kryptonite, x-ray vision, and powers of flight!
There was also the attitudes and values of a
Super-hero: truth, justice and the American way -
tell no lies - get crooks - be polite!) Our parents,
grandparents, teachers and many others help us
understand which words and symbols mean important
things. You remember the saying "Sticks and Stones
... but words will never hurt me!" Try the "f" word
at six years old in front of your mother and see if
that old saying is true!
- Stage 3 is the Game Stage 7 to the end of life
- Over time the various play roles provided
by the culture converge in the mind of the
developing individual. They have things in common -
in fact, our play roles have a lot in common with
just being a good citizen! This core set of behavior
expectations, values and attitudes form what Mead
called the Generalized Other. In the game stage,
while play is still very viable, we are often called
upon to be proper society members.
Most of us are polite and caring citizens because of
very pragmatic, learned reasons:
In fact, we slowly come to realize that "proper behavior
in public" is the same for everybody. We
soon know what a "Good Mother" acts like, what a "teacher"
is supposed to do and say, what a "police officer" really
means acts like, and what a "kid" is obliged to say when
he/she receives a gift (i.e., Mom: "What
are you supposed to say?" Kid:"Thank you." By
accepting the Role of the Generalized Other, we always
know how to behave - in general, as Mead explains it,
because of the process of the I-me Dialectic (above).
- The roles we play demand it
- Our socialization agents (parents, teachers,
etc.) demand it
- We get what we want quicker if we do
Around 1950, the American psychological community
bought into a new idea based on the old idea of Operant
Conditioning, also known as Behavioral
Psychology or Stimulus Response - the
major proponent of which was B.F. Skinner. Skinner's
point, in opposition to the cognitive emphasis, was
that there was no need to understand how the mind
works, or cognates, as long as we are able to
manipulate behaviors as we want, sometimes referred to
as Black Box Psychology, or Stimulus ---> Black
Box ---> Response
The black box stood for the subject's ability to think -
all unseen and inferred constructs pertaining to
cognitive activity, but the mental functions were seen
as unimportant compared to illiciting the desired
response. For Skinnerian's the only measurable factors
are Stimuli (actions) and Responses (behaviors). Given
the right stimulus, any response could be elicited. And
in closed, or "total" environments, such as prisons,
boarding schools, special military units, and cloisters,
it works pretty well, but not out here in the free and
open society in which we grow and develop.
Piaget's view of cognitive development:
As it turns out, in about 1963, Piaget emerged from
the social science shadows to say that there was
plenty of important stuff going on inside the black
box. In fact, if we (as a society) are interested in
getting the most out of each individual's potential
value, we have to attend to the environmental factors
that nurture that potential. Inside the box, there are
expectations, insights, attention, memory, plans,
imagery, problem solving, decision making, thinking,
fun seeking avenues of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll -
plenty of stuff!
Individuals go though stages of development where their
cognitive abilities are sharpened, enhanced, and
strengthened. He calls these stages Operations,
or Mental actions. There are four:
During middle childhood,
and individuals are in Piaget's Concrete Operations
stage of cognitive development. Here thought is
logical, flexible, and organized in it’s application of
concrete information. The capacity for abstract
thinking is not yet present. The ability to execute
conservation tasks is a clear indicator of this stage,
which includes the abilities of Decentration (he ability
to focus on several aspects of a problem at once and
relate them to each other) and Reversibility (the ability
to mentally go through a series of steps in a problem and
then reverse the direction, returning to the starting
- Sensorimotor stage - 0-2 years
- Preoperational Stage 2-7 years
- Concrete Operations 7-11 years. Here
operations are reversible, i.e., a wad of clay can be
mashed into several shapes, all having the same amount
of clay in them. Concrete thinkers can concentrate on
more than one property of objects and concepts, but
the concepts must be physical in nature. Conservation
is achieved in the individual's mastery of number,
length, liquid quantity, mass, weight, and volume.
Classification of objects into subsets while
maintaining their interrelatedness is also an element
of concrete operations.
Characteristics of the
Concrete Operational Stage in Middle Childhood
Formal Operations begin around 11-16 years-of-age,
just about the time that puberty and adolescence begins.
The ability to think in Abstract terms marks the
difference from concrete. In formal operations, we can
conjure up make believe situations, events that
are strictly hypothetical, and imagine the consequences of
those make-believe situations. We can (and do) even think
thoughts about thinking thoughts. Idealism is a part of
formal operations, in which we are able to imagine a
perfect world despite knowing such a place is impossible.
We are able to see that things are different from the
way they are supposed to be ideally. Some typical
cognitive abilities associated with formal operations:
- Seriation—the ability to order items along a
quantitative dimension, such as length or width.
- Transitive Inference—the ability to seriate or
order items along a quantitative dimension—mentally.
- Spatial Reasoning—By age 8 to 10, children can
give well organized directions to important places.
- Horizontal Decalage - the temporary inability to
transfer learning about one type of conservation to
other types. For example, a child might understand
conservation as it relates to clay shapes, but not
water, or other aspects of the physical world.
- Flights of fantasy - we can produce, in our
minds, long scenarios about life and love and being
all knowing, all powerful. Boys tend to think they
are powerful and wise right up until the very moment
- Hypothetical Deductive - Logical Reasoning:
This is hypothesis testing. "Suppose I ask Suzy out
for a date this weekend. How will it go? I'll call
... She'll probably say...then I'll say...
Conditional Relationships: If P, then Q. If
I ask Jenny to be my girlfriend, she'll probably
laugh in my face.
Falsification strategies: To test a
hypothesis, one has to find situations in which it
could be proven wrong.
Non-verification insights: Even if we can't
find any situations where the hypothesis fails, it
Literal Interpretations of rules: All this
can be conducted mentally without any actual
Advanced Understanding of Language/Advanced
Language Facility by developing
capacity for using and understanding:
- metaphors - She was a fox.
- satire - ironic turns of fate, making fun of
- nicknames - Fuzzy, Two Toes, Butch, El
- A wider range of words to describe emotional
states. I am wasted, shredded, totally
devastated, seriously deranged, basically
spazzed, completely wadded and bunged.
- Increased ability to detect sarcasm, deceit,
Advanced Pragmatism in the use of language:
bordering on manipulation, teens are learning to use
conversation and behavior to move others over to their
way of thinking.
Instead of "Dad, could you take me to the mall
it becomes, "Dad, ole pal. The greatest Dad in
the world- Do you have any plans on Saturday?"
- taking turns in discussions, Goonies vs.
- using questions to convey commands
- using words to enhance understanding, - place
emphasis: awesome, devastating, radically
- conversation is appropriate to the situation,
polite, carefully worded and cooperative when goals
are to be achieved.
- stories and jokes become more complex, intricate.
Perspective Taking - empathy is an element of
Formal Operations. - the ability to see another person's
point of view.
In Piaget’s Formal Operational Thought during adolescence (ages 12
- 15) - The stage of Hypothetical-Deductive
Reasoning means we are no longer limited to the concrete
variables for reasoning, we are now open to metaphysical
Abstract idealistic and logical thoughts allow us to now
explore problem-solving through mental reasoning, And we
can now think more critically about the self.
Introspection becomes most insightful. Metacognition
becomes more conscious.
Some Cognitive Developmental Theorists purport that formal
reasoning is a progression of two stages:
- Early Formal Operation Thought. Adolescents
new found ability to think in hypothetical ways
produces unconstrained thoughts with unlimited
- Late Formal Operation Thought. Adolescents
begin to balance their reasoning with the realities of
life experience and draw/commit to realistic
conclusions or solutions to problems.
David Elkind and Cognitive
Reasoning - There are implications for both cognition
and social-emotional development in adolescents.
The discovery of these new found cognitive capabilities
are both intrusive and can be exciting to adolescents,
who are often motivated to debate and explore issues by
which they have invested interests and are now
increasingly aware and capable of questioning the
infallibility of their parents and other authority
figures. Examples are: the Hurried Child Syndrome,
Imaginary Audience, and the Personal Fable
The Value of Piaget's Theories
Wisdom - a fifth
stage of cognitive development, it is a broad
interpretive knowledge, involving understanding of the
limits and conditions of life and living - mortality,
health, physical capacity, emotional range, social
constraints, and personal talents. This stage can be
the cognitive transition from adolescence to
adulthood. While adolescents and adults think
qualitatively similar, adults possess greater
quantitative knowledge that they often may take for
granted. They just
know things sometimes and can take cognitive
Realistic and Pragmatic Thinking. As
adolescents enter the workforce, the realities of
life, responsibility, and work stimulates a change in
Reflective and Relativistic Thinking (Post Formal
Thinking). Adolescents view the world across the
polarities of right/wrong or good/bad. Adults
begin to process exceptions to the rule….They begin to
see the context of gray.
1. Indicates what to look for in cog. development.
Social Cognition - Moving from the cognitive
development to the social development of individuals.
Social cognition (social intelligence) develops
right along side increases in cognitive abilities - and
refers to the ability to reason about oneself in relation
to others, about others and their place in one's network
of friends. It involves a new sense of self, apart from
relationships in family. to relationships with others
(specifically and in general).
2. Points out ways education can enhance cog.
development of all kids.
3. Defines capabilities that limit learning during
4. Shows that changes in mental activity are
qualitative as well as quantitative.
5. Offers an alternative to "statistical testing" for
contribution grounds cognitive theory in the reality of
a changing culture and society.
SELF REGULATORY LEARNING
- Cognitive development is a function of cultural
context and cultural exchange
- Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The range of
task that is too difficult for an individual to master
alone but can mastered with the guidance and
assistance of adults or more skilled peers.
- Lower Level. Cognitive expansion which is
reached through independent investigation and
- Upper Level. Cognitive expansion which is
reached through the assistance of skilled others
- Cultural Agents
- Cognitive competence (Information Exchange) can be
diffused through the following cultural agents.
- Formal Schooling would be one form of such cultural
assistance to mastery, as would parents, peers and
other members of the community, as well as changes in
technology and ideology as the individual matures.
The Testing Ground of
Formal Reasoning - 50% of freshmen college
students are still functioning primarily on a concrete
operational level. Perhaps Horizontal Decalage seeks
expression even at this stage.
- The self-generation and self-monitoring of
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to reach a goal.
- Characteristics of self regulated learners
- Set goals for extending their knowledge and
sustaining their motivation.
- Are aware of their emotional makeup and have
strategies for managing their emotion.
- Periodically monitor their progress towards goals.
- Fine –tune or revise strategies based on the
- Evaluate obstacle that arise and make the necessary
Each year, over a million
high school students drop out. They can expect to
earn $6,000 less than high school graduates.
Boys are more likely to drop out than girls. Adolescents
from more ethnically diverse backgrounds are more likely
to drop out than Caucasian youth. Distinctions
become insignificant when we control for socioeconomic
status. Between1940 and 1990, the percentage of students
completing high school increased from 44% to 85% - what
could be the reasons for this change? G.H. Mead - The
development of the Generalized Other fits right in here.
Piaget noted the importance of Accommodation and
Assimilation of information. Beginning with
a set of facts, the adolescent is able to "put" new
ideas, that sometimes do not fit, into his or her
repertoire of ideas.
Cognitive equilibrium and Abstract relations:
With formal operations one is now able to hold two
conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time. It is
painful to do so, and the individual will work to
resolve the conflict, but it is possible to think all of
the following for an adolesent: you are a great kid,
your biology grades are the pits, we love you very much,
you are often very annoying.
Such a realization may cause enough uncomfortable feelings
to cancel out one or the other statement. The
well-adjusted adolescent will be able to live with the
dichotomy long enough to resolve it.
Egocentrism - unlike the Mead term, here we mean
that all eyes are on us, Everybody knows what we have
done. We get a pimple in the middle of our forehead and
it shines like a very large ruby. The imaginary
audience suggests the belief that other people are
as preoccupied with the adolescent's behavior as he or
she is. The desire to be noticed, visible and on stage.
1. the abiding self - adolescent's willingness to reveal
characteristics of the self that are believed to be
permanent or stable - temperament, coolness, easy going
The Personal Fable - adolescent's sense of
personal uniqueness and (perhaps) indestructibility. NO
one can really understand what it feels like to be 16 and
in love. Adolescent's live in an imaginary world most of
the time. If they were older, we would label them insane -
out of touch with reality. This is all part of the
emerging status in formal operations, where the ability to
reason is developed without a complete set of "facts" or
2. the transient self- features that are believed to
vary over time or that seem to occur once in a while but
are not really part of the true self.
Role taking - from complete egocentrism to
infanthood to the ability to completely empathize with
others in adulthood, the ability to take the perspective
of the other is learned incrementally and is based on
experience with others. Elements of Role taking include:
The Importance of Social Interaction in Cognitive
- Impression formation - the formation of concepts
about one's self - about others - and about
relationships with others.
- Differentiation - the more differentiated the
individual's concepts are, the more cognitively
mature he is. A wider variety of categories is used.
Inference or the interpretation of feelings. As age
increases, this ability increases.
- Organization - as one progresses toward formal
operations, old ideas are reformulated to fit into
newly formed structures. Social Monitoring: I-me
A. Society allows very little deviance in the
individual's who are competing for full membership. The
more important the position in society, the more narrow
the latitudes for departure from social norms or role
behavior defining that position.
Socially, we attempt to participate fully in our
society through all five of the major institutions:
Individually, according to Mead and his minions, we all
develop a set of expectations about ourselves and others
which guides our behavior in almost all social settings
- official and unofficial, primary and secondary, at
home or at work.
Each time we enter a new social situation (Sunday
School, Junior High, first date, etc.), we use the
information we already possess, coupled with new
information coming to us, to define the new situation
and our place in it.
Each new social role is rehearsed and honed until it
passes the approval of our audiences.
By its social definition, each new role is
dependent on the actions of others as well as
Infants are Egocentric (Selfish) Adults are contrived
Along the way of maturation, we We are similar to all
develop (learn) a multiplicity others in our
expectations of "roles" which allow us to and our
needs. Same Culture define our needs and manipulate
Same Language, same Media others to have our needs met
in Guarantees social normality socially acceptable
Guaranteed similarity to an extent is mitigated by
our unique experience - (i.e., child abuse, travel,
quality of parental care, educational experiences,
If we, as influential socialization agents, decide to
concentrate on the production of individual minds fit
for consumption by the economy, we better be sure what
elements of thought the economy desires.
For example, we hold as an Ideal the notion of free
thinking individuals, creative and hopeful and brave.
American Pragmatist Philosophy maintains that we are
independent, self-reliant, free agents. True?
We Monitor our Presentation of Self
Does the Information Age Economy really want
divergent, creative people? These are not
conservative factors. These are the qualities of
artists, poets, and revolutionaries (like George
Washington, Thomases Paine and Thomas Jefferson -
not mechanics, technical writers, and militarists.
1. The Idea of Role Behavior as Drama, Backstage &
Front Stage Behavior.
The Toll of a Negative Self Concept
2. The I-Me Dialectic - as the behavior we present
to others is reviewed, we alter bad performances to
achieve the acceptance of others - if we are skilled
at empathizing with our audiences.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the development of an
individual is the development of a negative
self-concept. It is a way to control the individual
- to make you and me believe that we are just normal,
nothing special - or worse - we are substandard, too
fat, too skinny, too short, ugly hair, pasty skin, or we
talk funny, walk funny, aare not very smart, are too
smart for our own good. There are agents at work right
now, trying to tear down the positive images we have of
our abilities and qualities.
Ever wonder how a relatively plain looking person can
have magnetism and grace and charm and wit? Would you
go out with someone who really thought they were
Being a Rewarding (not Flattering) Person
"Before you can really love another person, you have
to love yourself. You must understand that you are the
hottest thing on two legs. Those lips, those eyes. Positive
self-image comes from accentuating the positive,
eliminating the negative, not messing with Mr. In
Between. We must learn to sincerely love
ourselves. Then we can concentrate on others liking us
and liking someone else.
Teenagers have the most difficult time here.
Notes for Information
Processing and Intelligence
Information processing theory says that:
developmental information processing ability geometrically
enhances overall intelligence (enhancements in breadth
and depth) and that all human beings process information
in the same basic way - like this:
Similarities to computer information processing (this is
just an analogy, and a poor one at that):
Dissimilarities - we are better at thinking than are
- hardware - logic circuits, printer, card
readers vs. brain, mouth, ears/eyes, nervous
- software - programming -> plans, goals,
methods of achievement, socialization.
Computers have enormous difficulty with thinking
processes that we humans don't:
Adolescent Information Processing:
- intuitive aspects of thought & reason
- parallel processing of information
- parallel problem solving
- aspects of self-awareness (thinking about
Teens spend more time on higher level tasks and are able
to focus better than children due to increased
experience and knowledge (the old cognitive unfolding
The Nature of Intelligence
In terms of Attention and Memory: Adolescents are
- selective attention tasks (ignoring some stimuli)
- divided attention tasks (listening to two things
- advanced memory capability (can hold more
information in short term memory, cramming for
exams, larger capacity for long term memory)
Increased information processing ability also means
improvements in the speed of retrieval of information
bits in memory, and improvements in the accuracy and
precision of the retrieved items. This ability improves
Cognitive Monitoring - the ability to take
into account what one is doing and plan the next move
or activity. This is the skill necessary to process
information, reduce the accommodation time of new
concepts, and to become expert problem solvers.
Efficiency of movement, planning and organization are
SKILLS that can be learned by modeling one's behavior
after a skilled technician.
The idea is to impart the skills necessary to be a
good problem solver - in both math and science,
English and writing, or love and romance.
However, little time is spent teaching the skills that
make up reliable problem solving - either in school, at
home or on the street. Those that become good problem
solvers are rarely accidental problem solvers - they had
good models and uncluttered environments. In
school, we impart factual knowledge (facts that will
change over time) instead of teaching students
to think and solve problems.
What is it and how is it measured?
Those interested in intelligence (for what ever reason)
have attempted to conceptualize it differently: Galton,
the first to attempt measurement of intelligence saw
it only in terms of reaction time.
What are the consequences for those who are measured?
An Important Distinction between Knowledge Possessed
& the Process of Solving Problems.
Information Processing and Intelligence -
- One suggests teacher-to-student learning, the
other suggests inherent ability and experience.
- I.Q. tests tend to measure what a person knows -
the right answer, not things like speed of
processing/adaptation, or ability to come to a
logical answer to a complex problem..
- Standard measures of Intelligence (the psychometric
approach) do not predict occupational success
very well - which is, ironically, the reason that
I.Q. scores are employed in educational systems.
- Also, psychometricians tend to land on the nature
(inheritability) side of the nature/nurture
argument - which means that very little can
be done to increase the intelligence of any given
individual (according to them).
- Conversely, practicing the process problem solving
of leads to the acquisition of knowledge, but
individuals are learning theory instead of facts.
Practicing geometry proofs does test organizational
skills and skills of categorizing and recognizing.
But very few students get much past algebra.
Binet I.Q. scores (1905) were initially developed to
aid in the application education to individual learners.
Today, they are often used to categorize the learner.
They represent a perfect normal curve, with a mean score
of 100 and a standard deviation of 16 points. The scores
are artificially maintained at 100, and have been for
the past fifty years. Binet attempts to measure I.Q. -
along four dimensions:
Binet I.Q. scores, or any other measure of intelligence,
do not predict occupation success very well. Nor do they
predict academic success beyond high school.
Psychometricians tend to argue that genetically determined
I.Q.s do exist. This means that very little can be done to
increase the intelligence of any give individual
- verbal reasoning
- qualitative reasoning
- abstract/visual reasoning
- short term memory
Steinberg believes that intelligence consists of three
Others, such as Gardner, see at least seven intelligences
- Methods of problem solving
- Abilities affected by experience
- Practical experience
There are social class, racial and ethnic dimensions to
traditional I.Q. scores
- verbal intelligence - similar to Binet
- spatial intelligence - similar to Binet
- math intelligence - similar to Binet
- musical intelligence - additional to Binet
- body skills intelligence - additional to Binet
- social intelligence - additional to Binet
- self-knowledge intelligence - additional to Binet
Are we ready to believe that another country's children
are genetically smarter than we are?
- lower class kids measure 10-20 points lower than
middle class kids
- African-American kids measure 10-15 points lower
than white kids
- British kids measure 20-25 points higher than
If not, we can hardly assume that class and racial/ethnic
differences are real either. The problem centers around a
social phenomena, not just native intelligence. How
can we explain away these differences in what many
believe is a true test of intelligence?
Sternberg's triarchic theory of intelligence
- There is Cultural bias in I.Q. tests?
- There are better approaches to discussing
Creativity and intelligence are not the same thing -
creativity is better. Creativity is linked to
divergent thinking (many answers to one problem),
not convergent thinking (one answer to many problems).
Divergent thinkers have word fluency, ideational
fluency (classification of words), adaptive flexibility
(find new applications of ideas) and originality
(uniqueness of thought).
Notes on Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
5% of school age children are diagnosed with ADHD.
Boys tend to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.
Children who are ADHD tend to be cognitively delayed on
measures. Their ease of distractability results in
forgetfulness, poor planning, reasoning, and
problem-solving, poor impulse control, problems
with cognitive self-regulation. The
process of continuously monitoring progress toward a
goal, checking outcomes, and redirecting unsuccessful