Language, thought and communication


Piaget's theory

Piaget's theory of cognitive development concerns how our thinking develops. He proposed that we learn by developing schemas about the world. Children develop language by matching the correct word to their knowledge. Thought and understanding come first, language develops after. Children only understand words when they have reached the correct stage of development and are ready. They can have language without understanding but will not be able to use it effectively. Sensorimotor stage: Children speak towards the end of their first year. Pre-operational stage: From 2 years they talk about things not present. Concrete operational stage: By 7 years children's language becomes mature and logical as they question things and create their own ideas.

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Evaluation for Piaget's theory

Supporting evidence: Strength. Early language is not random. When children start talking they use two-word phrases like 'Mummy sock', which shows they can see how objects relate to each other. Suggests that children only start to use language when they have some understanding of it.

Language comes first: Weakness. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis challenges Piaget. Evidence suggests that language does come before thought because Berinmo people didn't have certain colour words and couldn't distinguish between colours. Suggests that Piaget may have been wrong.

Schema: Weakness. Schema can't be scientifically measured. Very difficult to know if a schema exists as we cannot directly measure them. Shows that Piaget's theory of language and thought is not based on scientific evidence.

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The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Sapir and Whorf suggested it is not possible to think about something you don't have words for. Language comes first followed by thought. There are two versions of the hypothesis: one which believes words determine our thoughts and one which says that words just influence thoughts. Strong version: If there are no words for a thought, object or idea then you can't think about it. This is why it is difficult to translate ideas from one language to another. Weak version: Words help to 'carve up' the world. However, you can still imagine something with no words for it. The weaker version is preferred. If words we have for a concept or idea are limited, our ability to notice or recall that idea will be limited.

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Evaluation for Sapir-Whorf

Differences are exaggerated: Weakness. Differences between cultures may have been exaggerated by Boas. There are really only two words for snow in Inuit culture and actually English has other words for different types of snow. Shows that the differences aren't that great and challenges the conclusion language may determine thought.

Thought before language: Weakness. Having more words for snow doesn't mean the words come first. The Inuit language may have more words for snow because there is always lots of snow. Suggests that language develops because of the way we perceive our environment, which supports Piaget's views that thinking influences language.

Restricted and elaborate code: Strength. The hypothesis explains the link between language and intelligence. Bernstein suggested that working-class children will always fall behind in school because their use of the restricted code will always have a negative effect on their ability to think. Shows that language influences a particular type of thinking.

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Our view of the world: recall of events

Whorf studied Native American cultures to investigate whether language influences the way people think. The Hopi: Hopi language doesn't distinguish between past, present and future. This influences the way they think about time. Evaluation: Only one individual was studied. Some argue that Hopi and European languages describe the passing of time similarly. So Whorf's conclusion lacked a firm basis in fact. Language affects recall of events: Carmichael gave two groups of ppts the same pictures but each group heard different descriptions. When asked to draw them, the pictures drawn reflected the labels they had heard. Suggests that language influences memory. Evaluation: Materials used were ambiguous. Usually, we would be less influenced by labels. So we may not be able to generalise the findings to everyday life.

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Our view of the world: recognition of colours

The Zuni: Brown and Lenneberg found that the Zuni people have only one word for shades of yellow and orange and had difficulty recognising and recalling these colours compared to English speakers. Their lack of words for those two colours affected their ability to distinguish between them. Evaluation: The language barrier could have affected how well the Zuni people communicated their understanding of colour to the researchers. Means the research lacks validity. Language affects the recall of colour: Roberson found that Berinmo people of New Guinea had only five words for different colours and had difficulty recalling and distinguishing between a variety of colours. Supports the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis because cognitive processes are influenced by language. Evaluation: Some researchers have found the opposite. The Dani people have only two words for colour but were still as good as English-speaking ppts on a colour-matching task. So their lack of colour words did not influence their ability to think about colour.

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von Frisch's bee study

This study changed the way scientists thought about animal communication.

Aim: To describe the dance of the honey bee as a means of communicating info to each other.

Method: Put food sources close to the hive (10-20 metres) as well as further away (about 300 metres). Over 20 years he made over 6000 observations.

Results: Worker bees tell others where pollen is located by two types of dance: Round dance - food is less than 100 metres. Waggle dance - figure of eight, waggling its tail on the straight line of the eight. The line points to where the food is, speed indicates distance. 60% of bees went to food sources at the distance indicated by the dances.

Conclusion: Bees use a sophisticated form of animal communication. The signalling system has evolutionary value as it helps their survival.

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Evaluation for von Frisch's bee study

Scientific value: Strength. von Frisch's work made an important contribution to science. People knew that bees 'danced' but had no understanding of the meaning of the movements. Shows how valuable his research was. 

Sound matters too: Weakness. The importance of sound was overlooked. When bees did dances in silence, other bees would not then go on and investigate food sources. Shows that sound-based signals also play a part in directing other bees.

Other factors are important: Weakness. The bees do not always respond to the waggle dance. Bees did not use the information from the waggle dance to fly to nectar if it was placed in a boat in the middle of a lake - perhaps not liking to fly over water. Show von Frisch's account was incomplete.

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Animal communication

Survival - Vervet monkeys use sounds for danger. A specific sound warns other monkeys close by. Rabbits use visual signals. They lift their tail and pin ears back to communicate danger to other rabbits. These signals increase the survival of members of the signaller's species. Reproduction - Animals use mating displays. Peacocks stretch their feathers to attract females. Mating displays communicate genetic fitness through brightly coloured and plentiful feathers. Territory - Animals mark territory through spreading scent. Rhinos produce 20-30 piles of dung to communicate that an area is occupied. This has evolutionary value as it takes less energy than fighting. Food - Animals use signals to show the location of food. Ants leave a pheromone trail to communicate the location of a food source.

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Animal vs Human communication

Humans can use their language to plan ahead and discuss future events. In contrast, animal communication tends to focus on things that are physically present in the environment, such as food sources or predators. Therefore, displacement is not a part of animal communication in the same way as it is part of human communication. Creativity: Animal communication is a closed system as the gestures, sounds and movements refer to specific events. Human language is an open system as words can be combined together in an infinite number of ways. Means that human communication has endless potential. Single vs multiple channels: Human language can be expressed using a whole range of different channels such as spoken, written or sign language. This is not a feature of animal communication which tends to use dingle channels such as pheromones.

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Non-verbal communication: Eye contact

Verbal communication is any communication involving spoken or written words. The only part of communication is verbal and the other half is non-verbal communication (NVC). Eye contact: When two people look at each other's eyes at the same time. Regulating the flow of conversation: Kendon found that speakers looked away when they were about to speak and gave prolonged eye contact when about to finish. Shows eye contact encourages turn-taking in conversation. Signalling attraction: Conway found that people who use eye contact are judged as more attractive even with a negative facial expression. Expressing emotion: Adams and Kleck found that ppts judges emotions of joy and anger as more intense when shown a picture of someone gazing straight at them as opposed to gazing away. In contrast, they judged emotions of fear and sadness as more intense when the gaze in the picture was averted.

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Evaluation for Eye contact

Real-world application: Strength. Studies can explain an important feature of autism. People with autism may have difficulty communicating with others because they avoid eye contact. Knowing the importance of eye contact means that people with autism could be taught these skills.

Use of rating scales: Weakness. The use of rating scales to make judgements. Studies in this area rely on people rating their views of 'attractiveness' and 'intensity of emotion', and these are open to bias and interpretation. Suggests that studies of eye contact may produce subjective evidence.

Artificial studies: Weakness. Studies of eye contact involve quite artificial tasks. In Kendon's study, ppts were asked to get to know someone as part of the study. This means the conclusions may lack validity as they do not reflect what would happen in everyday life.

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Non-verbal communication: Body language

Body language: communication through unspoken movements and gestures. Open and closed posture: Crossing your arms and/or legs communicates rejection or disagreement - closed. Arms and legs were not crossed communicate approval and acceptance - open. McGinley found that ppts were more likely to change their opinions in line with a female confederate is she adopted an open posture when discussing her views, not a closed posture. Postural echo: Copying each other's body position. Tanner and Chartrand found that ppts had more positive feelings towards a new drink if the researcher had used a postural echo during the interview, than if there was no postural echo. Touch: In social interaction, 'touch' includes high fives, slapping, putting a hand on a shoulder. Fisher found that students handed books by a librarian who touched them on the hand were more positive about the librarian than those who were not touched.

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Evaluation for Body language

Real-world application: Strength. People who are trying to create a good relationship with others should use an open posture, postural echo and touch. Shows the research is useful in everyday life.

Studies lack control: Weakness. Studies are not always controlled. E.g. in the library study there may have been other reasons why the ppts liked/disliked the librarian aside from the presence or absence of touch. This is a problem for the validity of the results.

Studies are unethical: Weakness. Research in this area raises ethical issues. E.g. field experiments on postural echo and touch involved a lack of informed consent. It is also unclear if ppts were debriefed. This could affect the trust people have in psychologists.

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Non-verbal communication: Personal space

Personal space: The distance we keep between ourselves and others. We feel uncomfortable when it is invaded and try to defend it by moving away. Cultural differences: Sommer found that English people's personal space is 1-1.5m whereas Arabs' is much less. Collett found that Englishmen who stood closer and gave more eye contact were better like by Arabs. Gender differences: Men prefer a larger social distance when interacting with men than women talking to other women. Fisher and Byrne found that women felt more uncomfortable when a confederate invaded their personal space from the side whereas with men it was from the front. Status differences: Status is someone's rank within a society or the workplace. Zahn found that people with a similar status maintain a closer personal space than those with unequal status.

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Evaluation for Personal space

Real-world application: Strength. Doctors could use knowledge about cultural differences. Therefore, it has a positive impact on the real world.

Over simplistic: Weakness. Research into personal space only looks at one factor at a time. In reality, several factors may be affecting personal space distances at the same time such as culture, gender and status. This makes research in this area too simplistic.

Unrepresentative samples. Weakness. It is difficult to use a sample of people in a personal space experiment that reflects all people with a culture or all males or all females. This means we should be cautious in generalising the findings to everyone in a culture.

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Darwin's evolutionary theory

Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection. The genes for any behaviour that improves an animal's chances of survival and reproduction are more likely to be passed on to the next generation. Therefore genes have been naturally selected. Non-verbal behaviours that are beneficial are naturally selected. Baring teeth in a fight cause the attacked animal to get scared and leave, and therefore both animals in the fight are more likely to survive. This means the behaviour is adaptive - it helps protect survival. Opening eyes wide indicates surprise because it evolved from animal behaviour - it would help animals under threat to see an escape route. This behaviour is passed down to humans and continues to express surprise. Serviceable habits - Behaviours adaptive to our distant ancestors. These behaviours still show how we feel but may not serve the original adaptive purpose.

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Evaluation for Darwin

Research into facial expressions: Strength. Theory supported by research. Ekman identified six primary emotions: surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness and sadness that are found in all people. If behaviour is universal this suggests it is in our genes, supporting Darwin's evolutionary theory.

Research into newborns: Strength. Babies are born with the ability to smile or maintain eye contact, which suggests that, because these behaviours are present at birth, they are innate. If these behaviours are innate this supports the idea that they have been selected by evolution to help the child's survival.

Cultural differences in NVC: Weakness. Darwin's theory can't explain cultural differences in NVC. Personal space and gestures differ from culture to culture. Suggests the theory doesn't explain all NVC.

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Non-verbal communication: innate or learned

Neonate research: Neonate = newborn baby. If non-verbal behaviour is shown at birth it is likely to be innate. Social releasers: These are non-verbal behaviours like smiling which can make others want to look after babies (Bowlby). This is adaptive because it means that a young baby will be looked after and the genes passed on. Facial expressions: Rosenstein and Oster found that young babies' faces showed disgust with novel foods like citric acid (lemons). Suggests such facial expressions as a way of communicating emotions are innate. Sensory deprived: An animal or human without a sensory ability, such as hearing or sight. If they show the same non-verbal behaviour as people with normal hearing or vision this suggests the behaviours are innate. Thompson found similarity in blind children and children with normal vision in terms of facial expressions such as surprise.

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Evidence for Innate or learned

Cross-cultural research: Comparing behaviours between cultural groups. If behaviours are different this suggests that they are learned rather than innate. Contact vs non-contact cultures: One cultural difference in non-verbal behaviours is in terms of personal space. People from contact cultures are comfortable with smaller personal space. People from non-contact cultures maintain a larger distance between themselves and others. Gestures: Pointing one's index finger is acceptable in Western culture to emphasise what is being said but offensive in Hindu culture where people tend to point with their thumbs. Explaining cultural differences: Social learning theory can explain cultural differences. People observe what other people in their culture are doing.

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Non-verbal behaviour: Yuki's study

Comparing cultural understanding of non-verbal behaviour can show whether it is universal or learned.

Aim: To find out if there is a difference in how emoticons are understood by people in the east and the west.

Method: 95 students from Japan and 118 students from America - an independent groups design. Six emoticons were shown with different combinations of eyes and mouths (sad, happy or neutral). Ppts rated the emoticons for happiness using a 9-point scale.

Results: Japanese gave higher ratings to face with happy eyes than Americans, even when the mouth was sad. Americans gave higher ratings when mouths were happy even when the eyes were sad.

Conclusion: Suggests that cultural groups interpret facial expressions differently, which may be due to cultural norms and expectations.

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Evaluation for Yuki

Artificial materials: Weakness. Emoticons may not represent human faces. Emoticons do not include those tell-tale lines on people's faces which give us further info of how to interpret their eyes and mouth. Means the results of the study may lack revelanceto everyday life.

Only tested one emotion: Weakness. Study only investigated two types of emotion. In everyday life, faces express a whole range of emotions - fear, surprise, disgust, etc. Therefore, the study does not give us insight into how the full range of emotional expressions are interpreted by people of different cultures.

Using rating scales: Weakness. Rating scales may not be the best method of measurement. Emotions are very complex and rating scales reduce emotion to a single score. Therefore, Yuki may have measured the interpretation of emotions in too simple a way.

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