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Vol 38  No 3
September 22, 2005




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Cognitive Science Lecture Series

Examining the mind in all its complexity

By Tracey Mills

Dr. Carole Peterson talking to a four-year old boy, Jagger Mercer/Adams about an incident that happened to him. (Photo submitted)


Cognitive science, or the interdisciplinary study of the mind and intelligence, is not a new area of interest for researchers. Many have been developing theories of the mind based on complex representations and computational procedures since the 1950s. What is new is that the Department of Philosophy has launched an interdisciplinary lecture series that brings together faculty to discuss common areas of interest.

“I have wanted to initiate a cross-disciplinary lecture series since I arrived at Memorial just a short time ago,” said lecture organizer Dr. Arthur Sullivan, Department of Philosophy. “This lecture series is open to the whole university community and it is my hope that it will help to foster cross-disciplinary research and discussion.”

The lecture series started on Thursday, Sept. 15, with Todd Wareham from the Department of Computer Science. He lectured on The Role of Computational Complexity in Cognitive Modeling, examining the pitfalls associated with using techniques from computational complexity, a sub-area of computer science, as well as methods of dealing with them.

Dr. Sullivan points out that most of the lectures are focused on some aspect of language and cognitive development, but this is not the sole focus of cognitive science.

“It just so happened that the participating lecturers were all speaking about language. Next time the focus could change to something else. There are so many areas of interest within the study of cognitive science.”

The next lecturer in the series will be Dr. Carole Peterson, Department of Psychology, who will deliver a lecture titled Talking with Children on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 12 p.m. in AA-1045, Arts and Administration Building Annex. Dr. Peterson’s lecture examines the role that parents play in effecting one of the important cognitive factors that is linked to success in school ­ storytelling or narration.

“Research has shown that children who learn how to structure good stories make a more successful transition to school because what they are reading in school are story structures which have a beginning, middle and end.”

In her research, Dr. Peterson has demonstrated that the way parents talk to children is an extremely important predictor of a child’s development.

She said, “By the time children are three or four years of age you have some who have complex story telling skills and others who have no idea of how to put together multiple sentences or how to structure them logically and/or temporally.”

She pointed to a lot of research that has been carried out in the United States which recorded everyday conversations between parents and children and demonstrates how very different the verbal environments can be. Some children enter school having an incredible vocabulary because of the language they have been exposed to at home while others have a lot more variation in their vocabulary based upon how much complex language they have heard.

“Not only is how parents talk to children important but a parent can also change the way they talk to children ­ they can learn the optimal ways of talking to children.”

Her research focuses on storytelling skills because they are an important foundation for literacy. Stories dealing with personal events and narratives are easier for children to grasp. Her focus is also on talking verses reading because there are many more opportunities to talk to children in stimulating ways throughout the day and developing oral skills is something every family can do.

“When children first start to develop language it is very here and now, and they talk about things that are visible and in their environment. What parents need to do is talk about there and then, to encourage children to use language to describe what objects they are talking about and what the relationship between them is,” she added.

“Second, parents need to encourage children with why, what, when, where questions that encourage them to develop elaboration and a beginning, middle and end. This will ultimately help them develop an internal structure or cognitive schema.”


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