Chapter 9: Language and Thought
Chapter Outline
The relationship between language and thought
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 Language is defined as a set of symbols used for
 Facilitates thinking, problem solving, and decision
 Unique to humans
 Supports creative and progressive social interaction
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Components of Language
 Language production—the structured and
conventional expression of thoughts through words
 Speech—the expression of language through sounds
 Language comprehension—the process of
understanding spoken, written, or signed language
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Language Structure
 Phonology—the study of how individual sounds or
phonemes are used to produce language
Phoneme—the smallest unit of sound in a language, an
individual sound
 Example: The word pig has three phonemes: /p/, /i/, /g/
 Semantics—the study of how meaning in language
is constructed of individual words and sentences
Morpheme—the smallest unit of a language that conveys
 Example: The word pigs has two morphemes: pig and s
Lexical meaning—dictionary meaning of a word
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Language Structure
 Syntax—the system for using words (semantics) and
word order to convey meaning (grammar)
 Pragmatics—the practical aspects of language usage,
including speech pace, gesturing, and body language
 Non-verbal communication—body language
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Language: How We Develop
 Sequence of language learning
Prevocal learning—2–4 months old
 Babies distinguish all phonemes they will later use
for language; cooing (vocalization of vowel-like
 Babbling— ~6 months old
 Meaningless experimental sounds preceding actual
 First words— ~ 1 year old
 Simple single-word talking begins with
comprehension exceeding speech
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Language: How We Develop
 Sequence of language learning (continued)
Telegraphic speech—by 2 years of age
 Simple (two-word) sentences omitting all but
essential words
 Pragmatics—by 3 years of age
 Basic understanding of practical information
regarding language
 Grammar—by 4 years of age
 Basic rules of grammar are understood without
formal education
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Three Theories of How Language Develops
Nature—children are genetically programmed at
birth to learn language (Chomsky)
 We are born with a language acquisition device
in our brain that allows us to easily learn
 Nurture—language is entirely learned (Skinner)
 When babies are given rewards (praise or
attention) for a word/sound, they are more
likely to repeat that word/sound
 Nature and nurture (interactionist perspective)
 Both theories are important
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Critical/Sensitive Periods in
Language Development
 Critical period
 Stage
when an individual is particularly open to
specific learning; in this case, language learning
 Sensitive period
 Stage in development when an individual can best
acquire specific skills
Ability to learn language later in life requires
considerable effort
Many psychologists believe the years prior to age
13 are vital for language development
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Environmental Impact on Language
 Child-directed speech
Simple, high-pitched, slow-paced, emotion-charged
speech used by adults when speaking with babies and
young children
 May help babies learn words by keeping them
 Grammar development is affected by the environment
 Overregularization—the process by which
elementary school children apply learned grammatical
rules to improperly “correct” an irregular verb
 Example: “thinked” instead of “thought”
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Language Centres in the Brain
 Broca’s area
Critical for speech
Associated with grammar
Agrammatism—inability to
speak with proper grammar
Located in frontal lobe
 Wernicke’s area
Critical for language
Located in temporal lobe
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 Aphasia—a type of language loss
 Broca’s aphasia—unable to produce coherent speech.
Patient describing the story of Cinderella:
 'dopted her...scrubbed floor, um,
tidy...poor, um...'dopted...Si-sisters and mother...ball.
Ball, prince um, shoe... Cinderella hooked prince.
(Laughs.) Um, um, shoes, um, twelve o'clock ball,
 Wernicke’s aphasia—unable to comprehend speech.
Patient describing picture of a child taking a cookie:
 This and this and this and this. These things going in
there like that. This one here, these two things here.
And the other one here, back in this one.
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Gender Differences in Language
 Language production and
comprehension tend to
occur at an earlier age in
girls than in boys
 Girls score higher in English
than boys in elementary
 No substantial male-female
differences in reading or
writing scores by young
 Women are more likely to
use both hemispheres of the
brain to process language
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Learning Multiple Languages
 Children in bilingual and
multilingual homes acquire
language at a slightly
slower pace.
 Young children readily
learn a second or third
 The earlier we learn a
language, the more
proficient we become
 Language learning ability
declines as we age
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Language and Thought
Thinking without words
 Mental imagery involves picturing or visualizing a
sensory experience mentally
 Visualizing an event or activity activates many of
the same regions of the brain as the actual event or
 Spatial navigation uses visual imagery to navigate
through space
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Influence of Language on Thought
 Linguistic relativity
 The vocabulary
available for objects or
concepts in a language
influences how speakers
of that language think
about them
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Cultural Conceptions of Living Things
 English speakers have
more words for “living
things” than those in
 Therefore Indonesian
children can properly
understand and master
the concept of living
things at an earlier age
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Controlled processing—effortful, and relies on a
limited-capacity system
 Cognitive control
Ability to guide thinking and actions despite distraction
 Ability to guide attention
 Ability to pursue complex behaviour
 Executive function—the brain’s ability to control and
manage the mental processing of information
 Dysexecutive syndrome—impairments in the ability
to control and direct mental activities
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Automatic processing
 Seems effortless
 Not usually disrupted much if we are distracted
 Requires less attention
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Thinking to Solve Problems
 Problem solving—involves thoughts and actions to
achieve a desired goal
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Three Steps to Solving a Problem
 Define the problem
Define your current state
 Define your ultimate goal
 Determine the difference between these two
 Find a strategy for solving the problem
 Algorithm—step-by-step procedure to solving problems that
guarantees a solution
 Heuristic—short cut to solving problems but does not
guarantee a correct solution
 Insight—sudden realization of answer—eureka!
 Evaluation
 Did you find a good solution?
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Heuristics—Shortcut Thinking
 Working backward—this approach starts with a solution
and works backward through the problem
 Works well for problems with well-defined goals
 Forming subgoals—the current position is compared with
the desired goal and a series of steps are formulated to
close the gap between the two
 Divide a larger problem into smaller ones and
accomplish a series of subgoals
 Analogy heuristic—apply a solution used for a past
problem to a current problem that shares many similar
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Three Mental Stumbling Blocks to Solving
 Mental set—tendency to use problem-solving
strategies that have worked in the past
 Functional fixedness—our failure to use familiar
objects in novel ways to solve problems
 Confirmation bias—we often search for
information that confirms our expectations
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The Water Jar Problem
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The Nine-Dot Problem
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Solution to the Nine-Dot Problem
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The String Problem
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Solution to the String Problem
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Decision Making
 Decision making—the process of considering
alternatives and choosing among them
 Representative heuristic—guessing the probability
of something based on how closely a new object is
judged to resemble our existing stereotype of that
 Example: He is tall so he must be a basketball player
 Availability heuristic—guessing the probability of
something based on how quickly and easily information
bearing on it comes to mind
 Based on more frequent and more recent experiences
 Example: Smoking doesn’t harm unborn babies
because my cousin smoked and her baby was fine
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Decision Making
 Rational decision making
 Use probability of desired outcome to make decision.
 When information or options are limited, bounded rationality
minimizes cognitive effort necessary to make decision.
 Emotional decision making
 Particularly important in social interactions.
 People often make irrational decisions based on emotion.
 Framing refers to the way information is presented to
represent either a potential gain or a potential loss.
Practical Application:
 Advertising
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 Metacognition is thinking about one’s own thoughts
Reviewing memories
Considering past learning to understand events in the
 Thinking about our own identities to evaluate and modify
our behaviour based on past experience
Theory of mind
 Thinking about another person’s feelings or intentions
 Many animals are capable of complicated thought and
seem to possess a theory of mind
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Metacognition: How We Develop
 Children develop theory of mind gradually
Preschool years
 Hiding eyes: “You can’t see me!”
 Diminishes around 4 years
 Lying to avoid punishment
 Emerges around 3 years and is fairly universal by 5
 Lying to make someone feel good
 Seems to increase with age
 Other forms of metacognition do not emerge until later in
 Thinking about one’s memories
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Theory of Mind: What Happens in the
 Mirror neurons
 Activated
when a person performs a task as well as
when they witness another perform a task
 Located in the frontal and parietal cortex
Overlapping circuitry may facilitate interpreting
others’ feelings and predicting others’ behaviour
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Thought: When Things Go Wrong
 Disorders characterized by inability to control one’s
 Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Anxiety disorder characterized by the presence of
anxiety-producing thoughts or obsessions
Many with OCD perform compulsive actions to
help get rid of the obsessive thoughts
OCD affects about 1 percent of the population
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Thought: When Things Go Wrong
 Schizophrenia
disorder in which an individual has lost
touch with reality
People with schizophrenia experience
hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking
and speech, heightened perceptions,
inappropriate affect, and impaired working
About 1.1% of people in Canada have been
diagnosed with some form of schizophrenia
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Chapter 2: Psychology As a Science