Category Archives: Linguistics

The relationship between technology use and cognition

At least as far back as Lev Vygotsky, psychological scientists and others interested in human cognition have considered the relationship between humans’ technology use and cognition. Vygotsky, for example, saw humans’ mediation of ‘tools and signs’ (i.e., technological innovations, both concrete and abstract) as a key part of the learning process, while psychologist Jerome Bruner argues that using technology has a recursive relationship with cognition – as we use tools to accomplish some task, our thinking about the task itself can change.

In this article from The Atlantic, writer Ross Anderson examines the growing body of technologies and methods explicitly designed for ‘cognitive enhancement:’

It could be that we are on the verge of a great deluge of cognitive enhancement. Or it’s possible that new brain-enhancing drugs and technologies will be nothing compared to how we’ve transformed our minds in the past. If it seems that making ourselves “artificially” smarter is somehow inhuman, it may be that similar activities are actually what made us human.

The psychology of crossword puzzles

The Washington Post reports:

Crosswords can reflect the nature of intuition, hint at the way we retrieve words from our memory and reveal a surprising connection between puzzle-solving and our ability to recognize a human face.

“What’s fascinating about a crossword is that it involves many aspects of cognition that we normally study piecemeal, such as memory search and problem-solving, all rolled into one ball,” says Raymond Nickerson, a psychologist at Tufts University. In a paper published last year, he analyzed the mental processes of crossword-solving.

New York Times on “the hormone surge of middle childhood”

The New York Times reports:

Said to begin around 5 or 6, when toddlerhood has ended and even the most protractedly breast-fed children have been weaned, and to end when the teen years commence, middle childhood certainly lacks the physical flamboyance of the epochs fore and aft: no gotcha cuteness of babydom, no secondary sexual billboards of pubescence.

Yet as new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, paleontology and anthropology make clear, middle childhood is anything but a bland placeholder. To the contrary, it is a time of great cognitive creativity and ambition, when the brain has pretty much reached its adult size and can focus on threading together its private intranet service — on forging, organizing, amplifying and annotating the tens of billions of synaptic connections that allow brain cells and brain domains to communicate.

Retrieval failure: Cognitive neuroscientists interpret Rick Perry’s debate ‘brain freeze’

The Washington Post reports:

To neuroscientists, what happened to Texas Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday night looked like something very ordinary, exacerbated by stress: a “retrieval failure.”

It happens more often as we age. But the brain scientists say it shouldn’t be seen as evidence of an intellectual deficit or some medical problem. Instead, they say, retrieval failures offer a glimpse into how the brain does and doesn’t work, not just in the skulls of presidential candidates but for everyone else, too.

New science of bilingualism offers fresh insights into language acquisition, learning

The New York Times reports:

Once, experts feared that young children exposed to more than one language would suffer “language confusion,” which might delay their speech development. Today, parents often are urged to capitalize on that early knack for acquiring language…

But there is more and more research to draw on, reaching back to infancy and even to the womb. As the relatively new science of bilingualism pushes back to the origins of speech and language, scientists are teasing out the earliest differences between brains exposed to one language and brains exposed to two.

Amazonian tribe has no abstract concept of time, researchers find

Update: Originally, this post omitted the link to the TIME Magazine article. I’ve added the link – sorry for the oversight. —MGS

TIME Magazine reports:

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have found that the Amazonian tribe Amondawa, has no abstract concept of time. “In English we say things like, her birthday is coming up, or he worked through the night,” researcher Chris Sinha told NewsFeed. “But they (the Amondawa) don’t use such expressions of movement in space to metaphorically talk about time.”

The study was carried out via interviews, observations, questionnaires and experiments, and the results came as a surprise to the researchers, because it’s the first language in which it’s been established that space to time mappings don’t occur.

But although the Amondawa, who were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, don’t have anything like a clock, they do talk in time periods. “They’re just not as strict,” says Sinha. That means that if two members of a tribe were to meet up, they’d say something like “We’ll meet in the afternoon,” or “we’ll meet tomorrow morning.”  This is also explained by the fact that they have a small number system which only goes up to four.

New guidelines for Alzheimer’s diagnoses could double cases reported

HealthDay News, via MSN, reports:

The first new guidelines in 27 years for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease could double the number of Americans defined as having the brain-robbing illness.

The guidelines, issued Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association and the U.S. National Institute of Aging, differ in two important ways from the last recommendations, which have been in use since 1984.

First, Alzheimer’s is now being recognized as a continuum of stages: Alzheimer’s itself with clear symptoms; mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with mild symptoms; and also the “preclinical” stage, when there are no symptoms but when recognizable brain changes may already be occurring.

Second, the new guidelines incorporate the use of so-called “biomarkers” — such as the levels of certain proteins in blood or spinal fluid — to diagnose the disease and assess its progress, but almost exclusively for research purposes only.