Thinking and Language

PROBLEM SOLVING
Cognition defines the process of acquiring, maintaining and using information. Problem solving represents one aspect of cognition. All of us are faced with a variety of problems that need to be solved each day. 1. Most problems are mundane and simple: what to wear, to make for supper, etc. 2. Others are more far-reaching, such as what college to attend, how to sustain or improve a relationship, what career to choose. 3. We experience other problems in our school or work. We must think through these problems using problem solving techniques. Steps of problem solving: 1. Define the problem - the problem should be clearly and precisely defined. Many people will skip this step, resulting in faulty problem solving. For example a person is always late to class. Showing up late appears to be the problem, but in reality showing up late may be the result. The problem may be that the person gets out of work late, sleeps in late, is disorganized, etc. Be specific and precise when defining the problem. 2. Develop strategies and solutions - find a method that will help solve the problem (talk to the boss to get out a few minutes early, schedule later classes, talk to the professor about making up missed material, etc.). Some general strategies for problem solving are listed below. 3. Try a solution and evaluate the effectiveness - After you have listed a few strategies that may work, pick the one that sounds the most effective and implement it. Once it has been tried, determine whether or not the strategy solved the problem. If the problem is solved, you have completed the steps. If the problem still exists, go to step 4. 4. Reevaluate the problem and solutions- If the initial strategy did not work, you need to determine if the problem was defined accurately or if another solution

would be more effective. Repeat step three. Problem solving strategies can be formal or informal (or a combination of both). Formal problem solving strategies incorporate a series of defined steps or structure needed to accurately solve the problem (ie., algorithm, hypothesis testing). Informal strategies (trial and error and use of heuristics) do not use structure or steps but may be used to save mental engergy and time. STRATEGIES 1. Trial and error This approach to problem solving involves trying one solution after another in no particular order until a workable solution is found. Even lower animals use this approach. Trial and error can be very time consuming and even dangerous (would you feel comfortable with a surgeon who operated on you using the trial and error approach?) Of course most of our problems are not life or death situations, and if all else fails in our efforts to solve a problem, we may be reduced to trial and error. Less mental energy is required to use this strategy. However, other techniques are far more effective and less time consuming. Trial and error does not guarantee a solution to the problem. 2. Use of prior knowledge Rather than beginning with a haphazard, trial-and-error approach, it is best to reflect on a problem and see if you already have any knowledge that might help in finding a solution. Some problems can be solved with only a little stored knowledge. a. Hypothesis testing - making tentative assumptions and then test these predictions/assumptions - experimenter forms a hypothesis and then tests this hypothesis with experimentation, observation, etc. If my soup tastes bland, I could hypothesize that salt will improve the taste. I then add salt and taste the soup to determine if the soup’s taste improved. This strategy is not full-proof; again we may not solve the problem. b. algorithms – This strategy is a systematic, step-by-step procedure that guarantees a solution to a problem of a certain type as long as the algorithm is appropriate and executed properly. ie., formulas used in math and other sciences Computers are often programmed in this fashion 3. Heuristic: fast but not infallible This problem solving technique does not guarantee success but offers a promising way to attack a problem and arrive at a solution. These simple, rule-

of-thumb strategies come from previous experience, knowledge, etc. Chess players must use heuristics because there is not enough time to consider all of the moves and countermoves that would be possible in a single game of chess. Heuristics are used to eliminate useless steps and to take the shortest probable path toward a solution. We may also use heuristics when we are lost. We have become accustomed to using a particular strategy (ie., use of maps, asking for directions, use of GPS) when trying to find our location. Again, this strategy does not guarantee a solution. 4. Subgoaling - break the problem into many littler steps or goals; focus on the littler steps until you finally reach your goal 5. Inductive reasoning -taking information from a small sample and applying it to the larger problem or issue - applying known information to other situations (I know that if I eat a whole bag of Oreos, I will gain weight. Will I also gain weight if I eat a whole carton of ice cream?) OBSTACLES IN PROBLEM SOLVING Some times things get in our way or cloud our judgment so that it is difficult to create an accurate solution. Below are a few examples of problems that may block successful reasoning: 1. misusing heuristics A. representative heuristic - to judge the likelihood of something, we intuitively compare it to our mental prototype (best example) of the category. Linda is 31, single, outspoken and very bright. She majored in philosophy in college. As a student she was deeply concerned with discrimination and other social issues, and she participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which statement is correct? a. Linda is a bank teller. b. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement. Most people will say b because the feminist-like activity she displayed. However, when looking at probabilites, Linda is more likely to be a bank teller than a bank teller AND feminist. Statistically more people exhibit one but not both traits. We may erroneously select b because we activated a stereotype/representative heuristic.

B. availability heuristic - we base judgments on the availability of the information in our memories Some people are afraid to fly, yet a person is more likely to die in a car accident than in a plane wreck. People fear the plane wreck because we have more visual memories of plane wrecks from the media. Plane crashes are likely to be televised, on the front page of a newspaper, and splattered across local and evening news stations. However, if I am in a car accident, you are not likely to find out about the accident from reporting on the television. The newspaper is likely to place the story on page 2, 3, or even later in the paper. Think about the following: # deaths per 100 million Americans: all accidents (55,000) vs strokes (102,000) all cancers (160,000) vs heart disease (360,000) motor vehicle accidents (27,000) vs digestive system cancer (46,400) What do people fear the most? Fewer people, for example, fear dying from digestive system cancer because they do not hear about these reports as often as they hear about motor vehicle accidents. 2. functional fixedness - the tendency to think of things only in terms of their usual functions - tend to perceive the function of an object as fixed and unchanging. For example, the function of a wrench is to grasp on to the item so you can turn it, pull it out, etc.; however, when a nail needs to be pounded into a wall, a wrench can also be used as a hammer. If we do not use the wrench because we don’t see the use of the wrench in this fashion, we are experiencing functional fixedness. Functional fixedness is also an inability to take a new perspective on a problem. 3. mental set means that we get into a mental rut in our approach to solving problems, continuing to use the same old method even though another approach might be better. We are much more susceptible to a mental set when we fail to consider the special requirements of a problem. People who have problems with mental sets are also likely to have problems with functional fixedness. Do you remember in first grade when our teachers asked us to answer a question in class. If we were working on a math assignment and believed the answer to be 7, we would raise our hands and say "7." If the teacher tells us that we were wrong, we may use trial and error and keep guessing the answer until we are correct. However, a better strategy to use would be an algorithm. 4. confirmation bias - we seek out only that information which will confirm our hypotheses, even though the information that disconfirms our hypothesis or

belief is just as informative. For example, OJ Simpson reported that the detectives investigating his wife's death ignored evidence that suggested that someone besides himself murdered his wife. He believed that the detectives engaged in confirmation bias because they only pursued evidence to support his guilt and ignored all other evidence. 5. Hindsight bias - claiming, after the fact, that one knew what was going to happen before it happened (on the Monday after the Supper Bowl, I tell you that I knew team A was going to win all along; I do not make this claim until after the fact).

6. Belief perseverance - continuing to hold a belief even though you have been presented with information that disconfirms the belief (doctor says that smoking has contributed to the development of your lung cancer; you still believe that smoking is harmless so you continue smoking; a wife believes that her husband will no longer beat her even though this is her third visit to the emergency room) DECISION MAKING When forming judgments, we usually do not reason systematically --> we are more likely to use heuristics than algorithmic thinking

CRITICAL THINKING When thinking critically, you are thinking like a scientist. You should keep the following guidelines in mind. Be objective- remove all opinion and emotion; look at the facts or the information Be open-minded- consider all possibilities; do not limit yourself to your biases or beliefs - look at all angles of the situation Consider multiple causes or possibilities- Do not limit your thinking by believing the simplistic - some problems or situations have multiple explanations. Be critical- evaluate the evidence and do not simply accept all information as fact - look for the support for the information, belief, or theory Language development

Humans use language in order to communicate. Language begins to develop in infancy; communication with an infant begins at birth. Crying, grunting, etc. are used to express wants and needs. These primitive noises are soon replaced with other structured sounds to produce more constructive interaction. Definitions: phonemes morpheme semantics etc.) grammar interactions smallest unit of sound (English language has 45 phonemes) smallest unit of meaning (the, ball, ship) word meanings (a ball is an object that we can roll, throw, rules for combining words to create meaningful, coherent

Major Language Milestones experienced in infancy At 2 months, babies coo, using a string of vowels sounds to communicate. This communication usually indicates pleasure or contentment. At 4 to 18 months babbling (vowel-consonant combinations) occurs. Examples of babbling are dada, baba, mama. During first 6 months, all infants, regardless of culture, sound alike At this age infants will also use gestures and nonverbal communication. For example, they may point at the cupboard with cups to indicate that they want something to drink. 10 -13 mos. - first words used to communicate; one word may be used to represent many different meanings Toddlers can understand more words that what they can say. For example, if you say “truck,” they can pick out the truck from other toys but they may not be able to say the word “truck.” During 12-24 months infants/toddlers are in the language holophrasic period (single words that represent phrases). For example, “Drink” could mean “I want a drink” or “I am done with my drink.” At 18 - 36 months infants use telegraphic speech. Necessary words are included in a sentence, while unnecessary words (a, an, the, with) are omitted. “Go home.” “Doggy play.” Language errors As infants, toddlers and children are learning to use language, they will inevitably make errors. Some of these errors include: OVEREXTENSION - Using a word to refer to a wider variety of objects or events (use dogs to refer to all animals)

UNDEREXTENSION - use a general word to refer to a smaller range of objects (ie., cookie refers only to sugar cookie) WORD COINING - making up words (decreases as vocabulary increases) OVERREGULARIZATION - applying a newly acquired rule to all verbs or nouns (over applying "ed" or "s") Theories of Language Development Nativist Theories - suggest that we learn language because we possess an inborn language acquisition device (LAD) (Chomsky) - This LAD causes language to develop naturally and biologically. Environmental stimulation is not needed in order to learn how to talk. Behavioral Theories - suggest that we learn language through interactions in our environment - others talk to us (model), praise us for correct language skills (reinforcement), shape our skills by teaching small steps (cooing/ vowels -> babbling/vowels and consonants -> first words, etc.). The use of motherese (infant directed communication, which is high pitched and exaggerated speech containing much fluctuation) promotes language development. We also imitate what we hear. Most of us can remember an example of a young child repeating something that was said by an older child or adult. Interactionist Theories - Biology and environment are both necessary to produce language. To date, the research is inconclusive. Evidence exists to support both the nativist (nature) and behavioral (nurture) theories. The interactionist theory might better account for the wealth of the language research.