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From Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism: Activity-Dependent Structuring of the Human Brain



Book synopsis: After Piaget proves that Jean Piaget’s work is critical for understanding some of the most current proposals in the study of psychological development. It analyzes Piaget’s legacy, moving beyond the harsh critiques that have circulated since he lost prominence. It also brings together new developments and research practices that have grown out of Jean Piaget’s tradition, while providing a retrospective glance into the intellectual atmospheres of different periods at which the contributors encountered Piaget. This book reveals the richness and coherence of the School of Geneva’s research during the last decades before Piaget’s death. Contributions from scholars who formed part of the School of Geneva during the 1970s and ‘80s demonstrate Piaget’s influence on such diverse fields as infant development, ethnology, neuropsychology, semiotic development, and epistemology. After Piaget is part of Transaction’s History and Theory of Psychology series.
From Constructivism to
e Activity-Dependent
Structuring of the
Human Brain
Annette Karmilo-Smith
In philosophy, psychology, and linguistics, the pendulum regularly
swings from nativist claims regarding hardwired domain-specificity
to empiricist claims regarding domain-general processes that en-
able learning. Although Piaget was by no means an empiricist, his
constructivist theory does embody domain-general mechanisms of
change (assimilation, accommodation, and equilibration), purported
to apply to all cognitive domains such as number, space, physical
causality, social cognition, and language (Piaget, 1936). Several com-
putational modeling approaches to child development are also
domain-general in nature. For example, production system modeling
(Klahr et al., 1987) has been used to account for children’s problem-
solving across a wide variety of domains (Klahr, 1992, 2000; Klahr and
Dunbar, 1989).
While strongly supporting Piaget’s view that infants are active
participants in their own learning and that cognitive structures are
emergent and not innately specified (Piaget, 1936, 1966), I hereby
propose a dierent view from the domain-general or domain-specific
approaches—a domain-relevant view of progressive change—which
argues that the brain starts out with a number of basic-level biases,
After Piaget
each of which is somewhat more relevant to the processing of certain
kinds of input over others and which become domain-specific over
time through neuronal competition and a process of gradual modu-
larization (Elman et al., 1996; Karmilo-Smith, 1992, 1998). But first,
let us briefly examine one of the most influential approaches to infant
cognition in the literature over recent decades.
Nativist Approaches to Cognitive and Neural Development
As the popularity of Piagetian approaches to infant development
began to wane, the nativist approach arguing for innately specified,
cognitive-level core knowledge became particularly influential. At
least four arguments are used to support nativist claims. First, they
drew on the field of adult neuropsychology in which patients whose
brains had previously developed normally subsequently suffer a
brain trauma and end up with a pattern of relatively dissociated im-
pairments, for example, cases of agrammatism, prosopagnosia, or
agnosia. is, theorists argue, indicates that the brain is composed of
independently functioning, domain-specific modules (Baron-Cohen,
1998; Butterworth, 2005; Duchaine, 2000; Gopnik, 1997; Temple, 1997;
Van der Lely, 2005). e second argument emanated from a version
of evolutionary psychology, which maintains that the human brain
has evolved into the equivalent of a Swiss army knife in which each
innately-specified module in the newborn brain is exquisitely adapted
for a specific, independent function (Barkow et al., 1992; Duchaine
et al., 2001). (e analogy ignores the fact that most users of the Swiss
army knife actually employ for all purposes only a few of the numer-
ous special-purpose tools their knife possesses!) e third argument
was based on the capacities of what is known as the “competent
infant,” that is, claims that young infants possess innately specified
core knowledge or core principles (e.g., Butterworth, 2005; Carey,
2009; Kinzler and Spelke, 2007; Pinker, 1999; Spelke, 2000; Spelke and
Kinzler, 2007, 2009). In nativist accounts, learning was banished from
having any explanatory role (Piatelli-Palmerini, 2001). Finally, children
with genetic disorders presenting with uneven cognitive profiles and
displaying a juxtaposition of scores “in the normal range” in one or
more domains alongside serious deficits in others were argued to
illustrate the dissociation of general intelligence from independently
functioning domains like grammar, number, face processing, and the
like. So why should we consider these arguments to be less compelling
than they initially seem?
From Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism
First and foremost, they are all static. ey ignore what Piaget
deemed to be essential: the developmental history of the organism.
Indeed, a crucial component of Piaget’s epistemology focused on
the growth of knowledge over ontogenetic time, not a snapshot of
knowledge at one specific point in time like birth. Second, those of
nativist persuasion tend to disregard everything we now know about
the progressive development of the infant brain.
e Dynamics of Infant Brain Development
Just as Piaget stressed the ways in which children build their own
cognitive structures, so neuroscientists are increasingly focusing on
how the child’s activities sculpt the resulting structure of the brain.
e brain is rather like a large, very wrinkled walnut! Yet if its wrinkled
layers and folds were to be flattened out to a smooth surface, it would
cover a full-sized football pitch. Within all those complicated folds are
nearly a billion neurons. In fact, the newborn’s brain contains most
of the neurons that it will use throughout life, although research has
recently shown that even in adulthood some areas of the brain continue
to generate new neurons. By about eight months of age, the infant brain
will have about one thousand trillion connections between neurons,
which is roughly twice the amount of connections found in adult
brains. But this is a temporary dierence. With time, the connections
that have proven useful will get increasingly strengthened, whereas
those which haven’t been active often will be “pruned” or weakened.
So very gradually over time, the connections in the brain become
increasingly specialized, fine tuned, and more adultlike.
While some macrostructures of the brain, like the overall six-layer
structure of cortex, may be under general genetic constraints, most of
the microcircuitry of the brain turns out to be the result of complex
multilevel interactions over developmental time. Indeed, fine-tuning of
functional brain organization is a progressive, activity-dependent pro-
cess (Kandel et al., 2000). According to Huttenlocher (2002), plasticity
itself changes over developmental time, with some mechanisms avail-
able throughout the lifetime (increase in synaptic strength, decrease in
local inhibition, dendritic sprouting, formation of new synapses, and
formation of new neurons), whereas others are only available to the
early developing brain (utilization of unspecified labile synapses, com-
petition for synaptic sites, persistence of normally transient connec-
tions, and myelination). Moreover, changes in plasticity turn out to be
region specific, not general across the brain, suggesting (omas, 2003)
After Piaget
that there is no such overarching thing as “the brain’s plasticity.” Many
structures (e.g., dendrites, axons, and synapses) initially undergo
exuberant growth, followed by a period of pruning in which the pro-
cessing of environmental input gradually moulds the way in which the
microstructure of the brain emerges.
In young infants, neural processing tends initially to be diuse
across several regions in both hemispheres, but over developmental
time with the continuous processing of inputs, brain activity becomes
increasingly restricted to more specific networks in the left (LH) or
right hemispheres (RH) (Durston et al., 2006; Johnson, 2001). And
this gradual process of modularization over developmental time
(Karmilo-Smith, 1992), as opposed to the notion of built-in modules,
improves processing eciency. A recent study by Minagawa-Kawai
et al. (2007) examined language-specific phonemic contrasts in
infants from three months to twenty-eight months and found that
the onset of activation in dierent areas of cortex was age-specific.
Another study suggests that comprehension of single words moves
from bilateral processing between thirteen and seventeen months
to left lateralized processing at twenty months (Mills et al., 1997).
Like vocabulary development, processing of human faces starts out
with bilateral activity, with the brain displaying similar signatures
for other stimuli like cars or monkey faces (de Haan et al., 2002;
Pascalis et al., 2001). But by the end of the first year, the brain becomes
increasingly fine-tuned for processing human faces, with other stimuli
displaying dierent neural signatures, as well as increasing localization
for human faces to specific networks in the RH (de Haan et al., 2002;
Peelen et al., 2009).
Many questions about the developing brain of course remain to be
answered. For example, what explains individual dierences across
dierent brain regions? Even the brains of monozygotic twins end up
rather dierent, highlighting the role of gene–environment interac-
tions. Further, we need to know more about how hemispheric dier-
ences influence neural change over developmental time. In adults, the
RH seems to be implicated in more parallel, coarse-grained, integrative
processing, whereas the LH is involved in more serial, fine-grained,
predictive processing. How does this develop in children? Is informa-
tion passage through the corpus callosum always faster from RH to
LH than from LH to RH, or does this alter over developmental time?
Certainly the thickness of the corpus callosum fibers changes develop-
mentally over a long period of time between infancy and adolescence
From Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism
(Keshavan et al., 2002). Finally, short-range gray matter connectivity
is greater in children, while long-range white matter connectivity
develops considerably more slowly over time (Huttenlocher, 2002). All
of these and other developmental changes in the brain must be taken
into account when, for instance, analyzing neuroimaging data over
time, because the brain continues to undergo quite major changes
even at puberty (Blakemore, 2010; Crone et al., 2008).
Importance of the Brain’s Resting State
Functional Connectivity
Since self-organizing processes are a necessary part of the explana-
tion of how the brain changes over developmental time, it is critical
to understand the spontaneous neural activity that occurs without
external stimuli. In adult neuroscience, a resting state circuit has been
identified, comprising a large network of brain regions, associated with
task-irrelevant mental processes: precuneus/posterior cingulate cor-
tex, medial prefrontal cortex, and medial, lateral, and inferior parietal
cortex. It turns out that more of the brain’s energy is spent on intrinsic
rather than evoked activity; in fact that brain is never at rest. Studies
point to a high degree of functional connectivity during rest, that is,
interregional temporal synchrony (Raichle et al., 2001), indicating that
this spontaneous neural activity is not merely random activation.
Spontaneous brain activity during sleep, for instance, plays a criti-
cal role in the consolidation of memory, involving redistribution of
memory representations from temporary hippocampal storage to
neocortical long-term storage sites. e dialogue between neocortex
and hippocampus generates sharp-wave ripples and is orchestrated by
the <1 Hz EEG slow oscillation during slow-wave sleep. Unlike adults
whose sleep patterns involve cycles of slow-wave sleep to rapid eye
movement (REM) sleep, young infants fall directly into REM sleep,
with the proportion of slow-wave sleep increasing only very progres-
sively over the first years of life (Hill et al., 2007). How this aects the
resting state neural processes involved in sleep-related consolidation
of learning in children remains to be more fully elucidated.
e importance of developmental changes in resting state brain
activity will, I believe, become very prominent in the next few years.
Years ago (Karmilo-Smith, 1986, 1992), I put forward a cognitive-
level developmental hypothesis—the representational redescription
(RR) hypothesis—postulating that what is specifically human to
human intelligence is a process by which task-specific representations
After Piaget
stored as procedures in the brain become, via an internally-generated
process of RR, domain-general knowledge to the brain. is internal
self-organizing process, I argued, is generated by behavioral mastery,
not by negative feedback, and allows knowledge relevant to one
domain to become transportable to other domains without the need
to process new external input. In other words, RR was argued to be
an internally-generated process occurring outside the processing of
external stimuli. With the current advances in developmental brain
imaging, it should be possible to assess the hypothesis by detecting
specific networks in cerebral resting state underlying RR.
Gradual Developmental Process of Modularization
Neuroconstructivism, with many epistemological overlaps with
Piagetian constructivism but incorporating knowledge of brain
structure and function, argues that if the adult brain is in any way
modular, it is the product of an emergent developmental process of
modularization, not its starting point (Karmilo-Smith, 1992, 1998,
2006, 2007; Elman et al., 1996; Johnson et al., 2002; Westermann
et al., 2007). A crucial error is to conflate the specialized brains of
adults, which have developed normally prior to damage in later life,
with those of infants and children, which are still in the process of
developing (Karmilo-Smith et al., 2002). To date, there is no evidence
to suggest functional specificity of gene expression in the brain, that
is, no evidence that individual genes which are expressed in the brain
target discrete cortical regions. Rather, gene expression seems to be
widespread showing diuse, large-scale gradients across cortex (Kings-
bury and Finlay, 2001). Moreover, genetic mutations contributing to
developmental disorders in infants are likely to aect widespread
systems within the brain (Karmilo-Smith, 1998). is does not pre-
clude that the outcome of the dynamic developmental process could
end up with some areas being more impaired than others, but this
would not be a pattern necessarily apparent at the outset but due to
the result of processing demands of certain kinds of inputs to those
areas and to dierences in synaptogenesis across various cerebral
regions (Huttenlocher and Dabholkar, 1997). By contrast, the nativist
modular view underestimates the dynamics of the changing patterns
of connectivity within and across dierent brain areas during develop-
ment. Indeed, the same overt behavior may be subserved by dierent
underlying neural substrates at dierent ages during development
(Karmilo-Smith, 1998).
From Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism
In studies of typically developing infants and of those with
developmental disorders, researchers have shown how different
cortical pathways become increasingly specialized and localized as a
result of being recruited for specific tasks over developmental time
(Elman et al., 1996; Johnson, 2001). Various areas of the brain start
out by competing to process dierent inputs (Karmilo-Smith, 1998),
because cortical regions initially respond to a wide variety of dierent
stimuli and task situations. In other words, the infant brain displays
more widespread activity than the older child or adult brain when
processing specific kinds of inputs. With time, however, the develop-
ing brain starts to show increasing specialization and localization of
function as certain areas win out in the competitive processing. How
does neuroconstructivism explain this?
It is important to stress that the neuroconstructivist approach does
not imply that the neonate brain is a blank slate with no structure, as
empiricists would claim. Nor does it entertain the possibility that just
any part of the brain can process any and all inputs. On the contrary,
neurconstructivism maintains that the neonate cortex has some
regional dierentiation in terms of types of neuron, density of neurons,
firing thresholds, and so on. ese dierences are not domain-specific
aimed at the sole processing of proprietary inputs, nor do they amount
to domain-general constraints. Rather, they are ‘domain-relevant,
that is, dierent parts of the brain have small structural dierences,
which turn out to be more appropriate or relevant to certain kinds of
processing over others. But initially, brain activity is widespread for
processing all types of input, and competition between regions gradu-
ally settles which domain-relevant circuits become domain-specific
over time. Emergent specialization of function (e.g., for faces) can be
viewed as the fine-tuning of initially domain-relevant but coarsely
coded systems (e.g., for visual patterns), but this is for visual patterns
in general, not for faces in particular. e face specialization emerges
from the interaction between the environment (huge numbers of
face stimuli over time) and the initial visual processing constraints,
not from an innately-specified, dedicated face-processing module, as
some would argue (e.g., Duchaine and Nakayama, 2006).
So starting out with tiny dierences across brain regions in terms of
the patterns of connectivity, the balance of neurotransmitters, synaptic
density, neuronal type or orientation, and the like, some areas of the
brain are somewhat more suited (i.e., more relevant in terms of their
computational properties) than others to the processing of certain
After Piaget
kinds of input, and over time they ultimately win out. In other words,
the computational properties of a particular brain circuit may be more
relevant to certain types of processing (e.g., holistic vs. componential
processing) than others, although they are initially not specific to
that type of processing only. It is only after developmental time and
repeated processing that such a circuit becomes domain specific as
ontogenesis proceeds (Karmilo-Smith, 1992, 1998). ere is thus a
gradual process of recruitment of particular pathways and structures
for specific functions (Elman et al., 1996) such that brain pathways
that were previously partially activated in a wide range of task contexts
increasingly confine their activation to a narrower range of inputs and
situations (Johnson et al., 2002).
e neuroconstructivist position is supported by neuroimaging
research showing that the functional specialization of brain regions
is highly context sensitive and depends on interactions with other
brain regions through feedback processes and top-down modulation
(Friston and Price, 2001). is process becomes most evident in brain
organization in people who lack one sensory modality. For example,
in individuals who have been blind from an early age, visual cortex
is recruited for the tactile modality instead, that is, braille reading
(Sadato et al., 1996). Moreover, using transcranial magnetic stimulation
(TMS) to block processing in this area aects tactile identification of
braille letters in the blind but not in seeing people, who instead display
impaired visual processing when stimulated in this area (Cohen et al.,
1997). It therefore appears that the functional development of cortical
regions is strongly constrained by available sensory inputs and that the
final organization of the cortex is an outcome of interactive processes
such as competition for space.
With Piaget, Taking Development Seriously
Paradoxically, numerous studies of infants and children (typical
or atypical) are not developmental at all because they take a static
approach. e truly developmental, constructivist and neuroconstruc-
tivist perspectives embrace a developmental way of thinking, irrespec-
tive of the age of the population studied; even studies of infants can be
nondevelopmental and studies of adults can focus on developmental
change. In my view, to understand developmental outcomes, it is vital
to identify full developmental trajectories, to assess how progressive
change occurs from infancy onwards, and how parts of the develop-
ing system may interact with other parts dierently at dierent times
From Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism
across ontogenesis. A process that is vital, say, at time 2 may no longer
play a role at time 5. Yet its delay at time 2 may have been crucial to a
healthy developmental trajectory and outcome. Indeed, developmental
timing is amongst the most important of factors that need to be taken
into account when endeavoring to understand human development,
particularly in the atypical case. Even when scores are “in the normal
range,” this doesn’t necessarily imply a normal developmental trajec-
tory, without examining the cognitive and neural levels underlying
the behaviour. Yet researchers of a nativist persuasion will often label
the domain in which scores fall in the normal range as “intact” or
“preserved” alongside other domains considered to be impaired.
In my view, the very notion of “intactness/preservation” has a static
connotation and implies genetic determinism, as if states in the brain
were hardwired, unchanging, and unaected by developmental or
environmental factors. e neuroconstructivist view, by contrast,
considers the brain as a self-structuring, dynamically changing organ-
ism over developmental time as a function of multiple interactions at
multiple levels, including gene expression (e.g., Casey, 2002; Johnson,
2001). Research on birds and mammals eloquently illustrates this
point. Extensive evidence from studies of the neural and epigenetic
consequences of song listening and song production in passerine
birds (Bolhuis et al., 2000) shows how gene expression changes
over developmental time and may be significantly more important
during learning than during final production. Rather than something
fixed and predetermined, gene expression in the birds turned out to
be a function of how many elements the bird copied from its tutor.
A second example comes from early mammalian development and
also underlines the potential role of the environment in shaping
long-term patterns of gene expression (Kaman and Meaney, 2007).
ese authors studied brain development in rodent pups and traced
how dierences in maternal grooming behavior influence patterns
of gene expression in their pups, which have lifelong eects. e
researchers showed that rather than thinking of gene expression as
preprogrammed, dierences in the amount of postnatal pup grooming
and stroking change the amount of gene expression of genes involved
in the body’s responses to stress, and that these changes last the pups’
lifetime. ese kinds of dynamic environment–gene relations are likely
to be a pervasive feature of mammalian brain development, includ-
ing that of humans. In general, epigenesis is not deterministic under
tight genetic control. Rather, as Gottlieb stressed (Gottlieb, 2007),
After Piaget
epigenesis is probabilistic and only under very broad genetic control,
a point Piaget would certainly have endorsed.
A Computational Connectionist Model of Emergent
Brain Specialization
Many scientists consider the dierent functions of the ventral
and dorsal streams in the brain to be built in. e possibility that
their diering functions might emerge is rarely considered. Yet an
eloquent, in principle illustration of emergent specialization comes
from a computational model of these two streams (O’Reilly and
McClelland, 1992). e network had an input layer, two hidden layers
(A and B), and an output layer. A small dierence in activation levels
(equivalent to a dierence in neuronal firing thresholds) between A
and B suced, after both competing to process identical inputs, to
result in one stream ending up processing where objects were and
the other stream processing the features of objects. In other words,
the ‘where’ and ‘what’ pathways were not built into the network, with
one only processing spatial information about objects and the other
only processing featural information about objects. On the contrary,
early on, both streams started o by processing all inputs. However,
an initial, tiny dierence in the speed of activation levels was suf-
ficient, over time, to progressively give rise to gradual specialization
of the where/what pathways. Without this firing threshold dierence,
both streams would have continued to process all inputs in a domain-
general way. So a tiny bias in the initial state can suce to give rise
to a major domain-specific dierence in the end state after a lengthy
period of processing. In this sense, it is possible that domain-specific
outcomes may not even be possible without the gradual process of
development over time.
Implications of a Neuroconstructivist Approach
for Atypical Development
Rather than invoking “intact” and “impaired” modules, assessing
atypical development in terms of cascading developmental eects
of tiny perturbations should result in a better understanding of
genetic disorders in children. However, perhaps the notion of impaired
versus intact brain systems in uneven cognitive profiles might be
useful for clinical practice, even if theoretically it totally underplays
the role of development. If a patient has scores in the normal range
in a specific domain, surely there is no need to consider remediation
From Constructivism to Neuroconstructivism
in that domain? e nativist would probably agree and focus solely
on the domains of deficit. However, the neuroconstructivist would
not rule out intervention also in a proficient domain. For instance,
take a patient who presents with a serious deficit in, say, number,
yet scores in the normal range for all other domains. It would be
tempting in such a case to tailor remediation solely to the domain
of number. But that misses the very point of the neuroconstructivist
framework. First, the scientist would need to trace back to infancy
the origins of the number deficit which might not be in the number
domain directly; it could be a deficit in the visual system in scanning
arrays of objects. But a scanning deficit might aect other domains,
although to a lesser degree, meaning that these other domains could
look normal in subsequent development but may camouflage subtle
deficits. Once one explores multiple, low-level interacting processes
that underpin early development, this leads to a more dynamic view
of remediation.
Neuroconstructivism does not rule out domain-specificity; it
argues that it cannot be taken for granted and must always be ques-
tioned. Unlike the nativist perspective, neuroconstructivism—like
Piaget’s constructivism—oers a truly developmental approach that
focuses on change and emergent outcomes. And, every aspect of
development turns out to be dynamic and interactive. Genes do not
act in isolation in a predetermined way. Even the FOXP2 gene, about
which there was much excitement regarding its role in human lan-
guage, must be thought of in terms of the downstream gene targets
to which FOXP2 binds. e profiles of those downstream genes sug-
gest roles in a wide range of general, not domain-specific, functions
including morphogenesis, neurite growth, axon guidance, synaptic
plasticity, and neurotransmission (Teramitsu and White, 2007).
is is a very dierent level from theorizing at the level of cognitive
modules and making claims about “a gene for language” and points
to the multilevel complexities of understanding human development
in any domain.
It is clear that development—whether typical or atypical, whether
human or nonhuman—is fundamentally characterized by plasticity
for learning, with the infant brain dynamically structuring itself over
the course of ontogeny. e infant brain is not a collection of static,
built-in modules handed down by evolution. Rather, the infant brain
is the emergent property of dynamic multidirectional interactions
between biological, physical, and social constraints.
After Piaget
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... deceptions-in-action, representational deceptions, and reflective deceptions. The main rationale for our model is based on Dennett's (1983) intentional systems theory and Karmiloff-Smith's (1992, 1998, 2012 neuroconstuctivist theory of cognitive development. ...
... Besides Dennett's theory, our model of the development of deception is also based on Karmiloff-Smith's neuroconstructivist theory of cognitive development, particularly her idea of the development of a representational system. Karmiloff-Smith (1998, 2012 posits that in infancy, domain-general processing dominates, but specialisation of the functions of the brain increases with time. Thus, even the same behaviours may rely on diverse mechanisms at different developmental periods (Karmiloff-Smith, 2012). ...
... Karmiloff-Smith (1998, 2012 posits that in infancy, domain-general processing dominates, but specialisation of the functions of the brain increases with time. Thus, even the same behaviours may rely on diverse mechanisms at different developmental periods (Karmiloff-Smith, 2012). The essence of the developmental process lies in the re-description of representations in any domain-changes in the forms or levels of representations (Karmiloff-Smith, 1992). ...
“Deception” is defined predominantly as the intentional attempt to create false beliefs in others. However, the intentionality behind early acts of deception and its relation to false‐belief understanding remain unresolved. In this article, we offer a three‐stage theoretical model of the development of deception in human ontogeny. We posit that at any age, human deception is an intentional action, but its form changes according to the level of the deceiver's intentionality. As the primary function of deception is to influence the behaviour of others, we argue that first‐stage deceptions‐in‐action involve only the analysis of behaviours and perceptual access, not beliefs. In our view, the ability to deceive and false‐belief understanding are eventually interconnected, but false‐belief understanding is not essential for the earliest form of deception. Based on empirical findings, which suggest that by observing the results of early deceptions children build their knowledge of mental states as causes of human actions, we claim that the second stage of deception is representational deception. Further, as the understanding of beliefs becomes more advanced, the effectiveness of children's deception increases, and new forms of reflective deception (the third stage) emerge. Future directions for research are outlined, and limitations of the current model are discussed. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... El juego libre, aspecto central de esta reflexión, se asocia con la flexibilidad y la novedad, se destaca por su decisiva influencia en el desarrollo del cerebro tanto a nivel estructural como bioquímico y por sus efectos benéficos en el funcionamiento físico y emocional, tal como lo establecen investigaciones adelantadas en el campo de las neurociencias (Jessell, Kandel y Schwartz, 2005;Oates, Karmiloff-Smith y Johnson, 2012;Karmiloff-Smith, 2012;Pellis, Pellis y Bell, 2010). Cuando se juega hay liberación de dopamina, neuro-trasmisor que al actuar como una recompensa cerebral mejora la transmisión de información entre el hipocampo y la corteza prefrontal, lo cual promueve el desarrollo de funciones ejecutivas como la memoria de trabajo, planificación, monitorización, inhibición, modulación de emociones, etcétera (Lozano y Ostrosky, 2011). ...
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Consideraciones sobre el sentido del juego en el desarrollo infantil Considerations on the meaning of the play in child development Resumen La creciente visibilización de la niñez ha permitido comprender mejor su complejidad y los profundos desafíos que plantea al mundo adulto. En este artículo se aborda críticamente el papel del juego como medio para promover el desarrollo y la educación en la infancia. Se discute el alcance de los Derechos del Niño, en tanto las familias, las comunidades y el Estado, tienen limitaciones en la transformación de situaciones estructurales que obstaculizan su pleno ejercicio. De los Derechos del Niño se aborda uno que debería ser de elemental cumplimiento: el derecho al juego-al juego libre-. En este sentido, se revisan los beneficios que esta actividad ofrece al desarrollo infantil, al tiempo que se plantean algunas limitaciones y obstáculos para su práctica efectiva. Palabras clave: Derechos del niño; derecho a jugar; juego libre; desarrollo infantil. Abstract The growing visibility of childhood has allowed a better understanding of its complexity and the profound challenges that it presents to the adult world. In this article, the role of the game is critically addressed as a way to promote development and education of children. It is discussed the range of Children Rights, when families, communities and states present limitations on the transformation of structural situations that impede its full practice. Within children´s Rights, one is addressed that should be of elemental application: the right to play-to play freely-. In this sense, the benefits that this activity provides to child development are reviewed, while some limitations and obstacles to its effective exercise are simultaneously posed.
... Compared to school-aged children, very young children are hard to assess reliably and validly due to limits in their motor, language, and socioemotional skills. Young children also show great variability within and across individuals, potentially reflecting the emerging differentiation of functional systems (Karmiloff-Smith, 2012). ...
The use of global, standardized instruments is conventional among clini-cians and researchers interested in assessing neurocognitive development. Exclusively relying on these tests for evaluating effects may underestimate or miss specific effects on early cognition. The goal of this review is to identify alternative measures for possible inclusion in future clinical trials and interventions evaluating early neurocognitive development. The domains included for consideration are attention, memory, executive function , language, and socioemotional development. Although domain-based tests are limited, as psychometric properties have not yet been well-established, this review includes tasks and paradigms that have been reliably used across various developmental psychology laboratories. ARTICLE HISTORY
... An important insight derived from these stud- ies is that when children use objects canoni- cally, it is because they have acquired a type of functional permanence, shared with the com- munity. This permanence is not the same as Piaget's (physical) permanence of the object, or as the permanence recently proposed by sup- porters of the "competent baby" (Rochat, 2012;Karmiloff-Smith, 2012). Functional permanence allows objects to be considered not as unique specimens, but as members of classes. ...
It would be chaotic for humans to relate to one another disregarding the functional attributes of objects. Objects are defined by what they are for in everyday life. Communicating in a meaningful and functional way implies a regard for their pragmatic aspects, that is, their practical purposes (Groupe μ, 1992). The functional attributes of objects, obvious to adults, are not so to children in their first months of life. For them, things have no names. They do not see chairs, or everyday objects, for what they are. This has evident consequences for psychological development. Observing children shows that the same object can be used to do very different things. The first thing children usually do with objects is sucking, banging, or throwing them, irrespective of the object. Only gradually do they abandon these undifferentiated noncanonical uses to acquire the cultural uses of the community. Object and use do not coincide. One thing is the object and another is the use of it. Because children are not born knowing the functions of objects (as evidenced by how they use them), these functions have to be learned. Here, the adult guide the educational action –done by parents and teachers, for instance – intervenes through different semiotic systems (language, gestures, intonation, rhythm, uses of objects, and so on). This idea is in tune with one of the most deeply rooted sociocultural maxims: the child does not discover meaning or signifies the world on his/her own.
... This philosophical position has a counterpart in neuro-constructivism (e.g.Mareschal, Johnson, Sirois, Spratling, Thomas & Westermann, 2007;Dekker & Karmiloff-Smith, 2011;Karmiloff-Smith, 2012). In this view, cognitive faculties (modules) are not so much given as made through the transformation of innate and initial cognitive biases which are sculpted through interaction with the physical and social-cultural environment. ...
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This paper takes as its point of departure David Olson's contention (as expressed in The Mind on Paper, (2016) CUP, Cambridge) that writing affords a meta-representation of language through allowing linguistic elements to become explicit objects of awareness. In so doing, a tradition of suspicion of writing (e.g. Rousseau and Saussure) that sees it as a detour from and contamination of language is disarmed: writing becomes innocent, becomes naturalised. Also disarmed are some of the concerns given rise to by the observation made in the title of Per Linell's book of a ‘written language bias in linguistics’ (2005, Routledge, London) with its attendant criticisms of approaches (e.g. Chomsky's) that assume written language to be transparent to the putative underlying natural object. Taking Chomsky's position (an unaware scriptism) as a representative point of orientation and target of critique, the paper assembles evidence that problematises the first-order, natural reality of cardinal linguistic constructs: phonemes, words and sentences. It is argued that the facticity of these constructs is artefactual and that that facticity is achieved by way of the introjection of ideal objects which the mind constructs as denotations of elements of an alphabetic writing system: the mental representation of language is transformed by engagement with writing and it is this non-natural artefact to which Structuralist/Generativist linguistics has been answering. Evidence for this position from the psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic literature is presented and discussed. The conclusion arrived at is that the cultural practice of literacy re-configures the cognitive realisation of language. Olson takes writing to be a map of the territory; however, it is suggested that the literate mind re-constructs the territory to answer to the features of the map.
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Since the 1980s, numerous laboratory investigations have been arguing that infants are numerically competent. This work presents a critical review of this line of research. We propose that despite the repertoire of numerical abilities attributed to infants and the seemingly natural character of the very first numbers in the numerical series, the semiotic complexity of their use and comprehension poses a cognitive challenge that children undertake, motivated, supported and often guided by others. This challenge involves a high degree of semiotic organization of the material world as well as an ability to manage early sign systems, systems which children learn how to use during their first years of life and which form the platform on which numbers are based.
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'Heuristic' theories of autism postulate that a single mechanism or process underpins the diverse psychological features of autism spectrum disorder. Although no such theory can offer a comprehensive account, the parsimonious descriptions they provide are powerful catalysts to autism research. One recent proposal holds that 'noisy' neuronal signalling explains not only some deficits in autism spectrum disorder, but also some superior abilities, due to 'stochastic resonance'. Here, we discuss three distinct actions of noise in neural networks, arguing in each case that autism spectrum disorder symptoms reflect too little, rather than too much, neural noise. Such reduced noise, perhaps a function of atypical brainstem activation, would enhance detection and discrimination in autism spectrum disorder but at significant cost, foregoing the widespread benefits of noise in neural networks.
Symbolic uses of objects originate in communicative and triadic contexts (adult-child-object). In this longitudinal study we explore the emergence and development of the first symbolic uses in triadic interaction contexts in a girl with Down syndrome between 12 and 18-months of age. We conducted five sessions of video recording, at 12, 13½, 15, 16½, and 18 months chronological age. At each session we videotaped the girl and her mother interacting with different objects. Data were coded in semiotic categories used in previous studies (Rodríguez & Moro, 1999) and a microgenetic analysis was conducted for each session. The first symbolic uses by the girl appeared at 13½ months. Symbols were of different types and levels of complexity, and the adult had an important role in facilitating the production of these symbols.
The publication of After Piaget (Martí and Rodríguez 2012) hopefully triggers a new effort to understand the richness of the efforts of that major psychologist of the 20th century. Piaget was consistently concerned with part/whole relationships throughout his life. He addressed this issue philosophically, epistemologically, and psychologically. Conceptually Piaget struggled with the issue of continuity/discontinuity in development and changed his mind about how to reconcile the discontinuities of stages with his concept of development. I also attribute his variability to the implications of his important work on perception, and to his willingness to get involved in widespread concrete applications of his approach to education including the education of children with special needs; his center for genetic epistemology, and his interest in psychoanalysis. Benefiting from all the authors of After Piaget, I want to point out that Piaget has identified many major issues that will continue to constitute challenges to psychology in this century. These include specifying terms such as 'development;' methodological issues such as sampling both quantitatively in one culture and across cultures; comprehensive inclusion of the psychological processes covered by introductory textbooks in psychology; and conceptual issues such as the relationships among all these parts within a whole. I make a distinction between an 'issue' and a 'problem'-problems have solutions; while issues refer to controversies in science generally as well as in psychology that have persisted for centuries.
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Beyond modularity attempts a synthesis of Fodor's anticonstructivist nativism and Piaget's antinativist constructivism. Contra Fodor, I argue that: (1) the study of cognitive development is essential to cognitive science, (2) the module/central processing dichotomy is too rigid, and (3) the mind does not begin with prespecified modules; rather, development involves a gradual process of "modularization." Contra Piaget, I argue that: (1) development rarely involves stagelike domain-general change and (2) domain- specific predispositions give development a small but significant kickstart by focusing the infant's attention on proprietary inputs. Development does not stop at efficient learning. A fundamental aspect of human development ("representational redescription") is the hypothesized process by which information that is in a cognitive system becomes progressively explicit knowledge to that system. Development thus involves two complementary processes of progressive modularization and progressive "explicitation." Empirical findings on the child as linguist, physicist, mathematician, psychologist, and notator are discussed in support of the theoretical framework. Each chapter concentrates first on the initial state of the infant mind/brain and on subsequent domain-specific learning in infancy and early childhood. It then goes on to explore data on older children's problem solving and theory building, with particular focus on evolving cognitive flexibility. Emphasis is placed throughout on the status of representations underlying different capacities and on the multiple levels at which knowledge is stored and accessible. Finally, consideration is given to the need for more formal developmental models, and a comparison is made between representational redescription and connectionist simulations of development. In conclusion, I consider what is special about human cognition by speculating on the status of representations underlying the structure of behavior in other species.
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This chapter reviews the history and current status of information- processing approaches to cognitive development. Because the approach is so pervasive, it is useful to characterize research in terms of distinctive features, and to organize the features according to whether they are 'soft-core or 'hard-core' aspects of the information processing approach, as follows: Features of soft-core information processing approaches: Theoretical features; Methodological features. Features of hard-core information processing approaches. Keywords: Information-processing; Cognitive development' Computer simulating.
To date, research involving functional neuroimaging of typical and atypical development has depended on several assumptions about the postnatal maturation of the brain. We consider evidence from multiple levels of analysis that brings into question these underlying assumptions and advance an alternative view. This alternative view, based on an “interactive specialization” approach to postnatal brain development, indicates that there is a need to: obtain data from early in development; focus more on differences in interregional interactions rather than searching for localized, discrete lesions; examine the temporal dynamics of neural processing; and move away from deficits to image tasks in which atypical participants perform as well as typically developing participants
There is developmental progression in the ability to recognize human faces (HF) during childhood, accompanied by qualitative differences in what children perceive and remember. The best known example is that of sensitivity to vertical orientation: while there is age-related improvement in recognizing upright faces, upside-down ones show no recognition improvement. It is believed by some investigators to be a sign of developing face-expertise over the first 10 years or so of life. If expertise, based on experience with many individuals, is the basis for the development of the inversion-effect, faces from other species should not induce inversion-effects. In two experiments, we explored the expertise phenomenon by testing recognition of faces of different animal species with children between 5 and 10 years of age. Our results failed to show any developmental changes in the processing of faces of own- and other-species. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The purpose of this study was to examine developmental changes in the organization of brain activity linked to comprehension of single words in 13‐ to 20‐month‐old infants. Event‐related potentials (ERPs) were recorded as children listened to a series of words whose meanings were understood by the child, words whose meanings the child did not understand, and backward words. The results were consistent with a previous study suggesting that ERPs differed as a function of word meaning within 200 ms after word onset. At 13 to 17 months, ERP differences between comprehended and unknown words were bilateral and broadly distributed over anterior and posterior regions. In contrast, at 20 months of age these effects were limited to temporal and parietal regions of the left hemisphere. The results are discussed in relation to the general effects of maturation, the maturation of language‐relevant brain systems, and the development of brain systems linked to level of ability independent of chronological age. We offer the working hypothesis that the neurophysiological changes that give rise to certain ERP effects reported here are linked to the remarkable changes in early lexical development that typically occur between 13 and 20 months, whereas others produce more general maturational effects.