Social Cognition (Tomasello)

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Basis of Tomasello's Theory - Arguments against UG

1) Creole Languages - children may have had more exposure to natural languages than                 was previously thought - explains use of some extra syntactic rules in creole rather than just         using pidgin. ---> In studies, what children previously heard was unknown so weakens the             support for UG.

2) Linguistic Universals - reduced to principles and parameters - not innate grammar and aren't       useful for language acquisition.

3) Critical Period - Evidence for it is weak - children learn language more effectively than adults       because they are limited in what they can attend to. 

4) Poverty of the stimulus - Children may not make grammatical errors not because they               innately know that they are wrong (haven't had any negative feedback to say the mistakes are       wrong) but because parents communicate grammatical help in many ways (ie by repeating           non-grammatical utterences in the proper adult and correct grammatical form. (Farrar, 1992).

5) Language is uniquely human - nim chimpsky - seems to show can learn grammar/syntactic    rules but just copies teachers and can learn words but not construct grammatically correct            sentences.

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Social Cognition Hypothesis

  • When we carry out actions, there are observable indicators of our goals and intentions. 

(e.g. looking at an object, interacting with tools etc.)

  • Children notice these behaviours early on and come to understand the mental states (goals and plans) of others. 
  • Intention = A plan of action the organism chooses and commits itself to in pursuit of a goal. An intention includes both a means (action plan) and an end goal.
  • The two developing capacities of intention reading and sharing psychological states with others interact during the 1st year of life to create normal human development pathway leading to participation in common cultural practices.
  • Human cognition is unique because of the ABILITY and MOTIVATION to share intentions.
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Intention Understanding

3 Levels of Intention Understanding

1) Understanding Animate Action - observer perceives that actor has produced motion    autonomously

  • Infants recognise self-produced, biological motion withib a few months (Bertendal, 1996)

2) Understanding Pursuit of Goals - observer sees that actor has a goal and behaves with     persistence until goal is reached.

  • 10 month olds look at face of adult teasing them with toy as if to look for info about the goal of the adult (Carpenter et al, 1998)

3) Understanding Choice of Plans - observer understands that actor cosiders action plans and    chooses which of them to use.

  • 14 month olds - man touching box with head to turn on a light - hands free or holding blanket around shoulders - infants who saw hands-free carried out the action more often ---> understood there must be a good reason for not using hands (Gergley et al, 2002).
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Intention Sharing

3 Levels of Intention Sharing

1) Dyadic Engagement - Sharing Behaviour and Emotions

  • individual interacts with and is responsive to an animate agent - mainly through expression of emotions and behavioural turn-taking. 
  • Infants display ability to take turns when interacting with adults ---> active when adult is more passive, and passive when adult is more active (Trevarthen, 1979)

2) Triadic Engagement - Sharing Goals and Perception

  • individual acts together with a goal-directed agent toward some shared goal.
  • 9-12 months - participate in joint activities with adults (e.g. putting away toys together, rolling ball back and forth) (Hay, 1979)

3) Collaborative Engagement - Joint Attention & Intentions

  • Individual interacts with agent towards a shared goal using coordinated action plans & Joint Attention.
  • 12-15 months - when adult stopped participating in shared actions the child prompted them to reengage or took their turn for them (Ross & Lollis, 1987)
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Evidence for Social Cognition

1) Continuity Problem 

Children learn language gradually not all at once as UG would suggest. 

2) Linking Problem

 Language universals are too general to be helpful and some are too abstract and complicated.

3) Innateness of Social Attention

To attend to others' mental states we rely on social cues (e.g. eye gaze, voices etc.) as humans we are pre-programed to be good at reading social cues: 

  • Our ears are tuned to the frequency of human voices - voices always seem louder than other sounds even if decibels aren't higher. 
  • Humans have prominent sclera in the eyes - makes it easier to follow eye gaze. 
  • Eye gaze at 6 months predicts receptive vocab later (morales et al, 1998)
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Evidence for Social Cognition Continued

4) Grammar Acquisition

UG claims that grammar is learned by age 6 and is then fixed but evidence suggests that it changes over lifespan:

  • Kaschack & Glenberg (2004) 18-24 year olds were able to learn novel syntactic rules and use them appropriately. 

5) Autism

Tomasello explains Autism in terms of poorly developed social skills (shared intentionality). 

He explains that Autistics lack the MOTIVATION to share psychological states with others. 

  • Carpenter et al (2002) Autistics can understand goals but don't do it spontaneously. 

6) Human Social Cognition is Unique

Nim chimpsky is bad at grammar, interrupts teachers & copies - primates lack social skills.

  • Pre-linguistic children vs primates - children score more highly in social domain (Hermann et al, 2007
  • Intention understanding but not sharing - barrier & banana task and ultimatum game. 
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