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 Science Education: Essentials of Behavioral Science

An Introduction to Cognition

JoVE Science Education

Cognition encompasses mental processes such as memory, perception, decision-making reasoning and language. Cognitive scientists are using a combination of behavioral and neuropsychological techniques to investigate the underlying neural substrates of cognition. They are interested in understanding how information is perceived, processed and how does it affect the final execution of behaviors. With this knowledge, researchers hope to develop new treatments for individuals with cognitive impairments. JoVE's introduction to cognition reviews several components of this phenomenon, such as perception, attention, language comprehension, etc. Key questions in the field of cognition will be discussed along with specific methods currently being used to answer these questions. Finally, specific studies that investigate different aspects of cognition using tools like functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) or Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) will be explained.

 Science Education: Essentials of Developmental Psychology

Piaget's Conservation Task and the Influence of Task Demands

JoVE Science Education

Source: Laboratories of Judith Danovitch and Nicholaus Noles—University of Louisville

Jean Piaget was a pioneer in the field of developmental psychology, and his theory of cognitive development is one of the most well-known psychological theories. At the heart of Piaget’s theory is the idea that children’s ways of thinking change over the course of childhood. Piaget provided evidence for these changes by comparing how children of different ages responded to questions and problems that he designed. Piaget believed that at age 5, children lack mental operators or logical rules, which underlie the ability to reason about relationships between sets of properties. This characteristic defined what he called the preoperational stage of cognitive development. One of Piaget’s classic measures of children’s ability to use mental operations is his conservation task. In this task, children are shown two identical objects or sets of objects. Children are first shown that the objects are the same on one key property (number, size, volume, etc.). Then, one of the objects is modified so it appears different than the other one (e.g., it is now longer, wider, or taller), but the key property remains the same. Following this transformation, children are asked to judge

 Science Education: Essentials of Developmental Psychology

Metacognitive Development: How Children Estimate Their Memory

JoVE Science Education

Source: Laboratories of Judith Danovitch and Nicholaus Noles—University of Louisville

Human memory is fallible, and people often cannot accurately recall what they have seen or heard. Adults are aware of their limited memory capacity, so they use strategies, such as rehearsal and mnemonic devices, to improve their recall of important information. Because adults understand the limits of memory, they know it makes more sense to write down the items on their shopping list rather than to try to remember the items when they get to the store. This ability to think about one’s own memory is called metamemory. Metamemory is one component of a broader set of cognitive processes that allow humans to think about their own knowledge and thinking, which is called metacognition. Although young children understand that people have thoughts and a limited amount of knowledge, they often have trouble acknowledging the limits of their own knowledge and cognitive skills. Children’s ability to accurately estimate their own memory capacity and abilities improves over the elementary school years. One common way of measuring metamemory and its development is by giving children an opportunity to predict how well they can remember something, and then observing how well their prediction matches their

 Science Education: Essentials of Developmental Psychology

Categories and Inductive Inferences

JoVE Science Education

Source: Laboratories of Nicholaus Noles and Judith Danovitch—University of Louisville

It might be possible for the human brain to keep track of each individual person, place, or thing encountered, but that would be a very inefficient use of time and cognitive resources. Instead, humans develop categories. Categories are mental representations of real things that can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, individuals can use the perceptual features of animals to place them into a given category. So, upon seeing a furry, four-legged, tail-wagging, barking animal, a person can determine that it is a dog. This is one of many examples where people use perceptual similarity to fit new experiences into their existing mental representations. However, category membership is much more than skin deep, especially for representations of animals. Frank Keil demonstrated this by using a simple, yet powerful technique that focused on the differences between natural kinds and artifacts. Natural kinds include animals and other living things, while artifacts consist largely of nonliving things, such as tables or gold bricks. In his study, Keil told children stories about natural kinds and artifacts that underwent transformations causing them to cross categorical boundaries. For example, he

 Science Education: Essentials of Developmental Psychology

How Children Solve Problems Using Causal Reasoning

JoVE Science Education

Source: Laboratories of Judith Danovitch and Nicholaus Noles—University of Louisville

Imagine a young child hears an adult say, “I want to watch the news,” then watches the adult press a button on the remote control. A moment later, the television screen turns on. The next day, the child wants to turn on the television screen to watch cartoons. How does the child know what to do? Is it enough to say, “I want to watch cartoons,” or is pushing the button on the remote control necessary, too? Solving this problem requires children to use the information they observed (i.e., the adult’s behaviors) to come up with a solution. In their daily lives, children encounter many situations where they need to decode cause-and-effect from complex or ambiguous observations in order to accomplish a goal. In order to examine children’s capacity for causal reasoning, psychologists set up tasks using causal scenarios to observe how children draw conclusions and test new hypotheses about the relationships between different types of objects. In these tasks, children are shown interactions involving individual objects or sets of objects. Then, they are asked to identify and use the links between the causes and the effects to solve a problem.

 Science Education: Essentials of Developmental Psychology

Using Your Head: Measuring Infants' Rational Imitation of Actions

JoVE Science Education

Source: Laboratories of Judith Danovitch and Nicholaus Noles—University of Louisville

One of the main challenges of infancy is to learn how to achieve one’s goals in the world, whether they are to pick up a toy or to express desires to another person, and one of the most powerful tools in this learning process is imitation. However, imitation is not always as simple as copying other people’s actions; it is also necessary to realize that goals and intentions guide behavior. The world is a complicated place, and the actions that babies imitate are not perfectly presented. For example, consider a baby watching their father drinking from a plastic water bottle. As he picks up the bottle, he accidentally drops it on the floor. He picks it up and dusts it off, before turning the cap and taking a drink. If the baby wants to drink from the bottle on their own, they have to decode this complex set of events and determine which actions are related to their goal. Do they have to drop it and dust it off, or can they simply turn the cap and take a drink? One way to solve this problem is to view many examples of the same behavior, but some behaviors are rare or different each time they are performed. Thus, it is beneficial for infants to think more about the person they are imitating and less

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