The Structure of Language

  • Language is a system of symbols and rules used for meaningful communication.
  • A language uses symbols and syntax and is meaningful and generative.
  • Language is organized hierarchically from phonemes to morphemes to phrases and sentences.
  • Children develop language in a set sequence of stages.

Theories of Language Acquisition

  • Behaviorist B. F. Skinner strongly supported the idea that language depends largely on environment.
  • Skinner believed that people acquire language through principles of conditioning.
  • Critics argue the inadequacy of behaviorist explanations.
  • Some cognitive neuroscientists have created neural networks that can acquire some aspects of language by encountering many examples of language. They think children may acquire language in the same way.
  • Noam Chomsky is the main proponent of the importance of biological influences on language development.
  • Chomsky proposed that human brains have a language acquisition device that allows children to acquire language easily.
  • Some researchers believe that language is both biologically and environmentally determined.
  • The linguistic relativity hypothesis states that language determines the way people think.
  • Today, researchers believe language influences, rather than determines, thought.
  • Two ways that people use language to influence thinking are semantic slanting and name calling.
  • People master a new language better if they begin learning it in childhood.
  • Nonhuman animals can learn some aspects of language.

Language and Nonhuman Primates

  • Some researchers have tried to teach apes to use language.
  • Apes can communicate, but researchers are divided on whether this communication can really be considered “learning language.”

The Structure of Cognition

  • Cognition involves activities such as understanding, problem solving, decision making, and being creative.
  • People use mental representations such as concepts, prototypes, and cognitive schemas when they think.

Theories of Cognitive Development

  • Jean Piaget believed that children’s cognitive skills unfold naturally as they mature and explore their environment.
  • Lev Vygotsky believed that children’s sociocultural environment plays an important role in cognitive development.
  • Some researchers have shown that humans are born with some basic cognitive abilities.


  • Problem-solving is the active effort people make to achieve a goal that is not easily attained.
  • Three common types of problems involve inducing structure, arranging, and transformation.
  • Some approaches to problem-solving are trial and error, deductive and inductive reasoning, use of algorithms and heuristics, dialectical reasoning, creation of subgoals, use of similar problems, and changes in the way the problems are represented.
  • Researchers have identified many obstacles to effective problem-solving, such as focus on irrelevant information, functional fixedness, mental set, and assumptions about unnecessary constraints.


  • Decision-making involves weighing alternatives and choosing among them.
  • Additive strategies and elimination strategies are ways of making decisions about preferences.
  • Using expected value, subjective utility, the availability heuristic, and the representativeness heuristic are all ways of making risky decisions.
  • Using the representativeness heuristic can make people susceptible to biases, such as the tendency to ignore base rates and the gambler’s fallacy.
  • Using the availability heuristic can make people susceptible to overestimating the improbable or underestimating the probable.
  • In an effort to minimize risk, people also make decision-making errors, such as the overconfidence effect, the confirmation bias, and belief perseverance.


  • Creativity is the ability to generate novel, useful ideas.
  • Creativity is characterized by divergent, rather than convergent, thinking.
  • Some characteristics of creative people are expertise, nonconformity, curiosity, persistence, and intrinsic motivation.
  • People can best realize their creative potential if they are in environmental circumstances that promote creativity.

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