Fall 2019 HC 441H: Scientific Windows on the Blossoming of Cognition in Mind and Brain

Professor: Dare Baldwin

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12785:  Monday & Wednesday, 10:00 - 11:20 @ CHA 301

Children’s grasp of the world changes dramatically with development. In the brief two years from birth, they alter from helpless bundles into walking, talking dynamos. The course of cognitive development is also in some ways paradoxical. As toddlers, children acquire new knowledge at a remarkable pace, but at the same time they are prone to a degree of thoughtlessness that would lead them into imminent danger (e.g., swallowing strange substances, dashing in front of traffic) if adults weren’t present to save them from the consequences of their own exuberance. Even the older, school-aged child holds unusual beliefs about people and the world, yet nevertheless can accomplish striking intellectual feats, such as reading and mathematical calculation. What accounts for the huge growth in knowledge and skill that we see in human development, and also for its seeming unevenness?  Is knowledge accumulation what cognitive development is all about? Or do children’s thinking skills also change in qualitative ways?  If so, in what ways?  In what ways is cognitive development in human children different from what we see in other species? How dependent is normal cognitive development on a certain kind of environment (e.g., nutritional, familial, academic, and/or cultural)?

These are among the questions we will consider in this course. We will look at different accounts of how mental abilities develop, as well as the scientific methodologies psychologists use to interrogate cognitive development. A particular focus will be the latest breakthroughs in the study of cognition in infancy and early childhood, as this is a period of almost explosive cognitive change. As well, scientific understanding of cognitive change in this age range is itself rapidly changing; we will explore this frontier at which knowledge of knowledge-change is changing. During the course of the term, visitors will engage with us about their current research and the scientific methodologies they find most useful, and students will undertake original projects that evaluate the effectiveness of techniques for supporting children’s learning and growing intelligence.