Please join us for the Developmental Colloquium with Professor Lisa Feigenson
Johns Hopkins University
Intuitive Empiricism and the Study of Early Learning
Questions about how nature and nurture contribute to human knowledge have been productive for contemporary research in psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. Yet these questions also have been controversial. Here I revisit classic ideas in this theme and provide new evidence. First I argue that people, including children and scientists, intuitively think about human abilities in terms of innateness versus learning. Strikingly, people of all ages harbor strong empiricist biases, robustly attributing perceptual and cognitive capacities to individual experience. But why are people intuitive empiricists? In the second part of my talk I suggest that, from very early in life, people find instances of model revision, aka learning, highly salient, even when the learning is itself empowered by innate knowledge. For example, across a series of experiments, showing babies events that violate innate core expectations about objects or agents triggers a cascade of effects including: 1) enhanced learning, 2) heightened exploration, and 3) persistent explanation-seeking. The feeling of misalignment between one’s existing model of the world and current observations is thus is a key experience for cognition—one that is highly salient for thinkers throughout our lifespans. This experience of ‘what learning feels like’ may shape folk beliefs about the origins of our own knowledge.
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