Lecture Topics

  1. Information Processing Analysis of Piagetian Tasks.

    One way to make the transition from Piaget's theory of cognitive development to information processing approaches is to show how information processing psychologists have analyzed some of Piaget's tasks. There are numerous examples to be drawn from each of the four stages. You may wish to draw on each, focus on concrete and formal operations, or deal exclusively with formal operations.

    Begin your lecture with a review of the criticisms of Piaget's theory that students have just studied in chapter 4. Much of this critique has been developed by individuals arguing from an information processing perspective; you could draw in the works of Rochel Gelman, Thomas Trabasso, Jerome Bruner, and many others. In any event, the main point to make is that Piaget's tasks call on diverse aspects of information processing, and age difference in performing them could be due to failure in any one of them rather than failure to attain some generalized set of cognitive operations.

    Illustrate your point with a specific example. A good one is Trabasso's classic analysis of transitive inference (a good choice, because you can devise tests of transitive inference that your students will fail). Present Trabasso's analysis in some detail, as well as some of the experiments he and Peter Bryant carried out to test their ideas. There are many other possibilities, but we particularly also recommend Robert Sternberg's analysis of performance on analogies (see suggestion 3 below).

    Conclude your lecture by taking a stand on how the cognitive processing research related to Piaget's work, and viceversa. You may wish to argue that it points up severe deficiencies that invalidate the old master's contribution. Alternatively, you may wish to develop the position that Piaget has unearthed puzzles that continue to fascinate and challenge subsequent generations of researchers.

  2. Memory Observed: Research on Metamemory

    Not too long ago research on memory had a strict behavior cast to it. But over the past two decades, research on memory development has increasingly focused on mental manipulations of information called memory strategies. The logical extension of this work (as it seems in retrospect) was the suggestion that older people tend not only to be more strategic when they have to perform memory tasks, but tend to have better understanding about how memory works: to use which strategies, what sorts of memory tasks they perform well or badly, and so on. This sort of knowledge is called metamemory.

    Researchers have tried to find out about the development of metamemory by devising a means to get children to tell them what they (the children) know about memory. A classic reference here is the 1975 Society for Research in Child Development monograph titled "An Interview Study of Children's Knowledge about Memory,'' by M. Kreutzer, C. Leonard, and J. Flavell. Use the information in this monograph to cover some of the ways researchers find out what children think about memory processes.

    Metamemory research has been very active but has not gone unscathed by criticism. In the 1980s, critical reviews of the work appeared in the journal Child Development. You may wish to consult these as a basis for making a critical analysis using the descriptive data of self-reports to study mental processes.

  3. Do We Know How to Teach Children How to Read?

    A continuing and interesting dilemma for anyone who would teach children to read is that no one really knows the best way to do it. Dominant contenders are the phonics method and the whole-word method, but there is no conclusive evidence to recommend one method over the other. Although there are proponents of each approach, the general solution suggested by the text is a pragmatic mixing of elements of both that seem to help.

    In a lecture on this issue, outline each of the dominant theories, and show how they translate into classroom practices. Then present the evidence that shows why neither of these theories or approaches is "right.'' A good source could be any of several volumes of The Kappan, which has monitored this debate in articles published over the past several years.

    Having done this, suggest the importance of the issue that reading involves many cognitive processes, many of which may not be captured in the whole-word/phonics debate. Project SAIL is a contemporary program being conducted in Maryland schools that illustrates this point. It has shown great potential as a pragmatic application of what is known about reading processes. Michael Pressley is an energetic spokesman for the project and one of the main researchers and evaluators of this program; he is beginning to publish extensively about it in reading journals. You may even be able to obtain videotapes from him that can be used to illustrate various components of the process.

  4. Emotions and Memory Abilities

    Emotions have a strong effect on the ability to recall events in early childhood (Todd, 1985). High levels of fear and anxiety make it more difficult for young children to remember new information (Hill, 1972; Master et al., 1979). Even children as young as 3 years know that their emotional state can affect their ability to remember well. The majority of preschoolers believe that they can learn more easily when happy than when sad, when alert than when tired, and when they are quiet rather than noisy (Hayes et al., 1987). However, 5-year-olds have a tendency to overestimate their overall abilities to remember objects (Yussen & Levy, 1975). (Sources: Hayes, D. S., Scott, L. C., Chemelski, B. E., & Johnson, J. 1987. Physical and emotional states as memory-relevant factors: Cognitive monitoring by young children. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 33, 473-487; Hill, K. T. 1972. Anxiety in the evaluative context. In W. W. Hartup (Ed.). Young child. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children; Masters, J. C., Barden, R. C., & Ford, M. E. 1979. Affective states, expressive behavior, and learning in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 380-390; Todd, C. M. 1985. Long-term recall of everyday events by preschool children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN; Yussen, S. R. & Levy, V. M. 1975. Developmental changes in predicting one's own span of short-term memory. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 34, 490-509.)

  5. Verbal Rehearsal Strategies

    Improvements in verbal rehearsal strategies continue well past the middle childhood years. For example, subjects of various ages were asked to recall a list of words. Recalling some of the words would earn the subjects 10 cents per word and other words would earn only one cent each. Fifth graders rehearsed 10-cent and one-cent words equally. Eighth graders only slightly rehearsed 10-cent words more. College students, however, spent twice as much time rehearsing the words that earned them 10 cents each than words that earned only a penny each. Only the college students were able to use a strategy that maximized income. (Source: Kail, R. 1984. The development of memory in children, 2d ed. NY: W. H. Freeman.)

  6. Motor Skill Memory

    When was the first time you jumped rope? Blew soap bubbles? Roller skated? Rode a bicycle? Played hopscotch? Can you remember these events? If you do, you are atypical. However, you probably still remember how to do each of these skills if you learned them at some time in your life. So, although you don't remember the learning, you do remember the motor skill. How do you remember motor skills?

    It appears that the ability to learn and recall motor skills is located in the cerebellum, the area of the brain under the back side of the cerebrum and behind the brain stem. The cerebellum accounts for only one eighth of the brain's weight. Whenever a motor skill is learned, part of the cerebellum's nerve cell system changes physically.

    Once thought to only control balance and keep movements smooth and rapid, the cerebellum also helps the brain to learn and remember motor skills. The cerebellum has four types of cells, and some research suggests that H-VI Purkinje cells are most important during learning. In the cerebellum, Purkinje cells are inhibitory, and their most common reaction when stimulated during learning is to decrease their response. (Source: Phillips, K. 1990 (May). You must remember this. Omni, 30, 112.)

  7. Laughter theories

    Little psychological research has been done on laughter or humor, but the following theories have been developed to explain laughter:

    a. Superiority theory is the oldest and most often cited theory of laughter. Superiority theory focuses on emotions as the cause of laughter. Laughter is self-congratulatory or a feeling of a sense of "superior adaptation''. That is, individuals laugh because they feel they are better off than other people or because they feel they are better off than they once were. Some individuals believe this type of humor is less prevalent than it once was because of the modern moral development that objects to enjoying others' suffering. Would people still be amused by a day of watching the Christians and lions?

    b. Incongruity theory focuses on ideas. According to this theory, amusement is an intellectual response to dealing with unexpected, inappropriate, or illogical situations. People laugh because something they perceive does not fit the usual pattern.

    c. Relief theory focuses on biology, or laughter as a way to vent nervous energy. Freud, for example, thought that repressed sexuality and hostility often led to humor. Others suggest that any prohibition is a potential source of laughter. Dirty jokes fit this category well.

    d. Psychological shift theory suggests that laughter is the physical activity caused by feeling a pleasant psychological shift. Not only does it account for humor that fits each of the first three theories, but it also accounts for laughter produced by nonhumorous occasions, e.g., tickling, peekaboo for a baby, watching a magic trick, or winning a game.

    Analyze your own humor and laughter. Why do you laugh? What things do you find humorous? Do you joke at others' expense? At unusual situations? About taboo situations? How has your sense of humor changed since you were a small child? Do you find offensive any styles of humor that your friends enjoy? On which type of humor do various popular television shows rely? Which popular comedians rely on each of the types of theories? (Source: Ludovici, A. 1933. The secret of laughter. New York: Viking; Morreall, J. 1983. Taking laughter seriously. Albany, New York: State University of New York.)

  8. Developmental Stages of Dreaming

    According to David Foulkes, children have different dream content than do adults. Not until they are 8 or 9 do children have dreams that are similar to adults' dreams. The changes in dream content during the first several years of life are compatible to thinking process changes as proposed in theories such as Jean Piaget's.

    Fetuses only 23 weeks old experience REM sleep, the sleep pattern in which dreams are frequent, but of course, the dream content cannot be studied until children have some language ability. It seems that 3- and 4-year-olds have dreams in "bits and pieces,'' comparable to viewing a slide story or seeing pictures in a storybook. Their dreams have little emotional content and rarely are they in their own dreams. On the other hand, preschoolers are prone to nightmares.

    At 5 and 6, children begin dreaming in stories that have some action and movement, but they themselves are not featured in their own dreams. Around 7 or 8, the children begin to place themselves in their dreams; brighter children tend to begin this earlier than is typical. By 9, dreamers star in their own dreams.

    Despite limitations, children older than 5 can be instructed in successful lucid dreaming in which they learn to influence the action of their own dreams. One advantage is that children who have recurring scary dreams can learn to change the dream into a pleasant one. (Source: Begley, S. 1989 (August 14). The stuff that dreams are made of. Newsweek, 41-44.)

  9. Visual vs. Auditory Memory

    Older children remember more than younger children, except, that is, when the memory task is purely visual. In one study, children were shown picture books containing 40 colored pictures of common objects and animals. There were four pictures on each page—one in each quarter of the page. After viewing the pictures, the children were shown a second copy and asked to indicate what its page location had been (top to bottom, left or right). Many 3- and 4-year-olds were good at this task, and 5- and 6-year-olds did as well as college students.

    In a second study, 5-year-olds and 11-year-olds were tested on a picture-remembering task. The younger subjects most often confused pictures that looked alike (e.g., a pencil and a toothbrush), and the older subjects were more likely to confuse things that sounded alike (e.g., rap and rat).

    As children get older, they use language to help them remember. This means that they begin using more elaborate memory strategies such as rehearsal, categorization, and elaboration. However, the visual memory of preschoolers is quite good. Perhaps that is why one of the first games children enjoy is Memory. (Sources: Ellis, N. R., Katz, E., & Williams, J. E. 1987. Developmental aspects of memory for spatial location. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 44, 401-412; Hitch, G. J., Woodin, M. E., & Baker, S. 1989. Visual and phonological components of working memory in children. Memory and Cognition, 17, 175-185.)

  10. Memory Learning of Brain Cells

    A team at Berkeley is learning a great deal about how individual neurons learn and remember. By using a cancer gene inserted into mouse brain cells, they induce division resulting in a supply of identical HT4 cells that can be grown in cultures and provide limitless duplicate cells for research. In studies, Daniel Koshland and others have found that serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters, is important in long-term memory. For example, when HT4 cells are exposed to minute quantities of serotonin, they have increased, but short-lived, output of excitatory amino acids. If subjected to one high dose of serotonin, the effects lasted for the entire five-hour life of the cell. In other words, a huge dose created what appears to be a lasting long-term memory. Another way to create a permanent change is to give the cells simultaneous smaller doses of serotonin and glutamate (an excitatory acid) repeatedly. Either way, it seems that the serotonin receptor must be activated to create a rise in a molecule called cyclic AMP. Glutamate receptors activate protein kinase C, an enzyme that keeps cyclic AMP high. When cyclic AMP levels are elevated, long-term memory stage appears to occur. Based on current knowledge, cellular long-term storage seems a lot like the way our holistic long-term memory works. Things can get into the long-term memory if they are strong, powerful events (e.g., witnessing a bad car crash) or if people work at learning something hard and often (e.g., learning one's multiplication tables). Of course, more research must be done to understand the relationship between the cellular process and the process in the whole human being. Other needed research includes seeing whether cells other than the HT4 respond the same way, and if so, whether researchers will then be able to find the cells that have just learned a certain function by finding neurons with the highest level of cyclic AMP. (Source: Nadis, S. 1993 (1993). Test-tube obedience training: Nerve cells in a dish obey like Pavlovian dogs. Omni, 10.)

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