Much research on cognitive development focuses either on early-emerging domain-specific knowledge or domain-general learning mechanisms. However, little research examines how these sources of knowledge interact. Previous research suggests that young infants can make inferences from samples to populations (Xu & Garcia, 2008) and 11- to 12.5-month-old infants can integrate psychological and physical knowledge in probabilistic reasoning (Teglas, Girotto, Gonzalez, & Bonatti, 2007; Xu & Denison, 2009). Here, we ask whether infants can integrate a physical constraint of immobility into a statistical (...) inference mechanism. Results from three experiments suggest that, first, infants were able to use domain-specific knowledge to override statistical information, reasoning that sometimes a physical constraint is more informative than probabilistic information. Second, we provide the first evidence that infants are capable of applying domain-specific knowledge in probabilistic reasoning by using a physical constraint to exclude one set of objects while computing probabilities over the remaining sets. (shrink)
I make two points in this commentary on Carey (2009). First, it may be too soon to conclude that core cognition is innate. Recent advances in computational cognitive science and developmental psychology suggest possible mechanisms for developing inductive biases. Second, there is another possible answer to Fodor's challenge – if concepts are merely mental tokens, then cognitive scientists should spend their time on developing a theory of belief fixation instead.
In order to account for how children can generalize words beyond a very limited set of labeled examples, Bloom's proposal of word learning requires two extensions: a better understanding of the “general learning and memory abilities” involved, and a principled framework for integrating multiple conflicting constraints on word meaning. We propose a framework based on Bayesian statistical inference that meets both of those needs.
Perhaps in addition to language being a potential medium of domain-general thought, as suggested by Carruthers, language may also play another role in conceptual development: Words are “essence placeholders.” Evidence is presented from studies on categorization, object individuation, and inductive inference in infancy. The assumption that words are essence placeholders may be a mechanism by which infants acquire kind concepts.
We applaud Millikan's psychologically plausible version of the causal theory of reference. Her proposal offers a significant clarification of the much-debated relation between concepts and beliefs, and suggests positive directions for future empirical studies of conceptual development. However, Millikan's revision of the causal theory may leave us with no generally satisfying account of concept individuation in the mind.