Core Knowledge

The Thoughtful Animal

Category archives for Core Knowledge

A version of this post was originally published on my WordPress blog on March 15, 2010. Click the archives image to see the original post. Most animals, at some point in their day-to-day lives, face the same problem. After they’ve gone out in search of food, they need to find their way home. But some…

Human infants have one important job during the first years of life, and that is to learn about the world and their culture from their parents and other caregivers. But what is learning? I’ve previously written that Hungarian developmental psychologists Gergely and Csibra have defined learning as the acquisition of new, generalizable knowledge that can…

What is learning? Most psychologists (indeed, most people in general) would agree that learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, or new behaviors, or new skills. Hungarian psychologists Gergely and Csibra offer a deceptively simple description: “Learning involves acquiring new information and using it later when necessary.” What this means is that learning requires the…

There’s a very well-known experiment in developmental psychology called the “A-not-B task.” The experiment goes something like this: you, the experimenter, are seated opposite a human infant. Within the reach of both you and the child are two boxes: box “A,” and box “B.” You hide a toy in “A,” in full view of the…

Behold! The second installment of the Science Online Lemur Cognition series. If you missed the first installment, you should check out the cyborg lemurs of the Duke Lemur Center. There’s some pretty good evidence that numerical cognition emerged fairly early in the primate lineage, at least, if not significantly earlier in evolution. Most of the…

In honor of Science Online, which begins on Thursday night, I will be writing about lemurs this week. Why lemurs? Because on Friday morning, as a part of Science Online, I will be taking a tour of the Duke Lemur Center. It is common among animals – especially primates – to orient their gaze preferentially…

“When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service!” Even in 1852, psychologists like Charles Mackay, who wrote those words in his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, were well aware of the dangers of confirmation bias. I was reminded of the pervasiveness of this…

In 1975, Edward Tronick and colleagues first presented the “still face experiment” to colleagues at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. He described a phenomenon in which an infant, after three minutes of “interaction” with a non-responsive expressionless mother, “rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get…

Morality and convention are so mired in culture that it may seem near impossible to determine the extent to which biology and environment give rise to it. And yet it is possible to investigate the evolutionary origins of morality. Research with infants – especially pre-verbal infants – who have not yet been sufficiently exposed to…

Cooperation and conflict are both a part of human society. While a good deal of the academic literature addresses the evolutionary origins of conflict, in recent years there has been an increased focus on the investigation of the evolutionary origins of cooperative behavior. One component of cooperative behavior that might be present in other animals…