Gardner & Gardner (1969) - Teaching Sign Language To A Chimp

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  • Created by: ernily
  • Created on: 19-04-15 20:06

Gardner & Gardner (1969) - Aims & Context

  • Hockett (1960) believed there were real qualitative differences between human and non-human language - human languages contain many features which animal communication does not. 
  • Aitchison (1983) concluded that there are 4 criteria which are unique to human language:
    • Semanticity: The use of symbols to mean an object or action.
    • Displacement: The ability to refer to things not present in time or space.
    • Structure-Dependence: The patterned nature of language and correct word order.
    • Creativity: The ability to produce and understand many new ways of saying the same thing.
  • Chomsky (1957) stated that we are biologically programmed to acquire language. He called this the Language Acquisition Device.
  • Hayes & Hayes (1952) worked with a chimp called Vicki. They wanted her to talk, however, after 6 years she was only able to make 4 sounds.
  • Bryan (1963) stated that the vocal ability of chimps is different to humans; they will only vocalise in situations of high stress or excitement.
  • Premack & Premack (1966) raised a chimp called Sarah. They taught her to make sentences by using shapes and colours to represent words. She acquired 130 signs and could make sentences up to 8 units long.
  • The aim of Gardner & Gardner's study was to:
    • Investigate if they could teach a chimp ASL.
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Gardner & Gardner (1969) - Procedures

  • Wild, female chimp aged 8-14 months, called Washoe.
  • She was always with a human companion during her waking hours. They played games with her and only communicated using American Sign Language (ASL).
  • Training Methods:
    • Imitation: "Do this" game; was unsuccessful.
    • Prompting: If she 'lapsed', she was shown the correct sign and would imitate that.
    • Using Signs: To acquire a large vocabulary.
    • Babbling.
    • Operant Conditioning: Rewarding Washoe for good signing.
  • Records were kept of her progress for over 22 months.
  • 3 observers had to report seeing Washoe using a sign spontaneously and appropriately.
  • The sign had to be recorded every day for 15 days in order for it to be classed as 'learned'.
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Gardner & Gardner (1969) - Findings & Conclusions

  • 30 words were acquired, such as "move, up, sweet, open, tickle".
  • Washoe's language acquisition resembled a human's.
  • Differentiating: Washoe used 'flower' to reference odours. She could eventually distinguish between 'smell' and 'flower'.
  • Transfer: She could apply 'flower' to different kinds of flower, and use 'dog' when hearing a dog bark.
  • Combining: She could combine 2 or 3 signs, for example: 'listen dog' when a dog barked.
  • ASL is an appropriate medium of communication for the chimp.
  • The study suggested that more could be accomplished because of Washoe's ability to combine signs.
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Gardner & Gardner (1969) - Evaluating The Methodol

  • Case Study:
    • Lots of qualitative data acquired.
    • Can't be generalised as it is specific to an individual.
  • Reliability:
    • Strict criteria had to be kept to in order to ensure that Washoe had actually learnt a word.
    • Standardised procedures were used in order to ensure that this experiment could be repeated.
    • Kanzi (1991) - another chimp - also showed semanticity. This proves that language can be taught to chimps.
  • Validity:
    • Low internal validity as, occasionally, the training programme and procedures went wrong because Washoe was pressed too hard to learn.
    • However, high internal validity because the recording of whether Washoe had actually learned a sign was strict.
  • Ethical Issues:
    • Could not give informed consent, and also had no right to withdraw because she is a chimp. 
    • Her rights were ignored.
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Gardner & Gardner (1969) - Alternative Evidence

  • Loulis - Supports:
    • Loulis, a chimp, acquired more than 50 signs just by mirroring other chimps.
    • This shows that chimps can teach and learn ASL from other chimps.
  • Kanzi & Mulika - Develops:
    • Two chimps who were taught to use language via lexigrams.
    • By 17 months, Kanzi could use 2500 non-imitative combinations.
    • Savage & Rumbaugh (1986) concluded that some chimps have a greater propensity for language than others.
  • ELIZA - Contradicts:
    • ELIZA was a computer programme which could respond as if it were a non-directive therapist.
    • Judges were unable to tell the difference between ELIZA's responses and the therapist's responses.
    • This suggests that there is a difference between producing language and actually understanding it.
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