Many people have argued that the evolution of the human language faculty cannot be explained by Darwinian natural selection. Chomsky and Gould have suggested that language may have evolved as the by-product of selection for other abilities or as a consequence of as-yet unknown laws of growth and form. Others have argued that a biological specialization for grammar is incompatible with every tenet of Darwinian theory – that it shows no genetic variation, could not exist in any intermediate forms, confers (...) no selective advantage, and would require more evolutionary time and genomic space than is available. We examine these arguments and show that they depend on inaccurate assumptions about biology or language or both. Evolutionary theory offers clear criteria for when a trait should be attributed to natural selection: complex design for some function, and the absence of alternative processes capable of explaining such complexity. Human language meets these criteria: Grammar is a complex mechanism tailored to the transmission of propositional structures through a serial interface. Autonomous and arbitrary grammatical phenomena have been offered as counterexamples to the position that language is an adaptation, but this reasoning is unsound: Communication protocols depend on arbitrary conventions that are adaptive as long as they are shared. Consequently, language acquisition in the child should systematically differ from language evolution in the species, and attempts to analogize them are misleading. Reviewing other arguments and data, we conclude that there is every reason to believe that a specialization for grammar evolved by a conventional neo-Darwinian process. (shrink)
The uniquely human emotion of disgust is intimately connected to morality in many, perhaps all, cultures. We report two studies suggesting that a predisposition to feel disgust is associated with more conservative political attitudes, especially for issues related to the moral dimension of purity. In the first study, we document a positive correlation between disgust sensitivity and self-reported conservatism in a broad sample of US adults. In Study 2 we show that while disgust sensitivity is associated with more conservative attitudes (...) on a range of political issues, this relationship is strongest for purity-related issues—specifically, abortion and gay marriage. (shrink)
Despite its considerable intellectual interest and great social relevance, religion has been neglected by contemporary develop- mental psychologists. But in the last few years, there has been an emerging body of research exploring children’s grasp of certain universal religious ideas. Some recent findings suggest that two foundational aspects of religious belief – belief in divine agents, and belief in mind–body dualism – come naturally to young children. This research is briefly reviewed, and some future directions..
A leading cognitive scientist argues that a deep sense of good and evil is bred in the bone. From John Locke to Sigmund Freud, philosophers and psychologists have long believed that we begin life as blank moral slates. Many of us take for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society—and especially parents—to transform them from little sociopaths into civilized beings. In Just Babies, Paul Bloom argues that humans are in fact hardwired with a (...) sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research at Yale, Bloom demonstrates that, even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others’ actions; feel empathy and compassion; act to soothe those in distress; and have a rudimentary sense of justice. -/- Still, this innate morality is limited, sometimes tragically. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Bringing together insights from psychology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, violent psychopaths, religious extremists, and Ivy League professors, and explores our often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion, and race. In his analysis of the morality of children and adults, Bloom rejects the fashionable view that our moral decisions are driven mainly by gut feelings and unconscious biases. Just as reason has driven our great scientific discoveries, he argues, it is reason and deliberation that makes possible our moral discoveries, such as the wrongness of slavery. Ultimately, it is through our imagination, our compassion, and our uniquely human capacity for rational thought that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we were born with, becoming more than just babies. -/- Paul Bloom has a gift for bringing abstract ideas to life, moving seamlessly from Darwin, Herodotus, and Adam Smith to The Princess Bride, Hannibal Lecter, and Louis C.K. Vivid, witty, and intellectually probing, Just Babies offers a radical new perspective on our moral lives. (shrink)
According to models of objectification, viewing someone as a body induces de-mentalization, stripping away their psychological traits. Here evidence is presented for an alternative account, where a body focus does not diminish the attribution of all mental capacities but, instead, leads perceivers to infer a different kind of mind. Drawing on the distinction in mind perception between agency and experience, it is found that focusing on someone's body reduces perceptions of agency but increases perceptions of experience. These effects were found (...) when comparing targets represented by both revealing versus nonrevealing pictures or by simply directing attention toward physical characteristics. The effect of a body focus on mind perception also influenced moral intuitions, with those represented as a body seen to be less morally responsible but more sensitive to harm. These effects suggest that a body focus does not cause objectification per se but, instead, leads to a redistribution of perceived mind. (shrink)
What would it be like to have never learned English, but instead only to know Hopi, Mandarin Chinese, or American Sign Language? Would that change the way you think? Imagine entirely losing your language, as the result of stroke or trauma. You are aphasic, unable to speak or listen, read or write. What would your thoughts now be like? As the most extreme case, imagine having been raised without any language at all, as a wild child. What—if anything—would it be (...) like to be such a person? Could you be smart; could you reminisce about the past, plan the future? (shrink)
Recent work within psychology demonstrates that unconscious cognition plays a central role in the judgments and actions of individuals. We distinguish between two basic types unconscious social cognition: unconsciousness of the influences on judgments and actions, and unconscious of the mental states that give rise to judgments and actions. Influence unconsciousness is corroborated by strong empirical evidence, but unconscious states are difficult to verify. We discuss procedures aimed at providing conclusive evidence of state unconsciousness, and apply them to recent empirical (...) findings. (shrink)
There are two facts about word learning that everyone accepts. The ﬁrst is that words really do have to be learned. There is controversy over how much conceptual structure and linguistic knowledge is innate, but nobody thinks that this is the case for the speciﬁc mappings between sounds (or signs) and meanings. This is because these mappings vary arbitrarily from culture to culture. No matter how intelligent a British baby is, for instance, she still has to learn, by attending to (...) the language of the people around her, that rabbits are called ‘rabbits’, that sleeping is called ‘sleeping’, and so on. (shrink)
College students implicitly judge interracial sex and gay sex to be morally wrong Some moral intuitions arise from psychological processes that are not fully accessible to consciousness. For instance, most people disapprove of consensual adult incest between siblings, but are unable to articulate why—they just feel that it is wrong (Haidt, 2001). More generally, there is evidence for at least two sources of moral judgment: explicit conscious reasoning and tacit intuitions, which are motivated by emotional responses (Greene et al., 2001) (...) and learned associations (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). (shrink)
Normal children learn tens of thousands of words, and do so quickly and efficiently, often in highly impoverished environments. In How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, I argue that word learning is the product of certain cognitive and linguistic abilities that include the ability to acquire concepts, an appreciation of syntactic cues to meaning, and a rich understanding of the mental states of other people. These capacities are powerful, early emerging, and to some extent uniquely human, but they are (...) not special to word learning. This proposal is an alternative to the view that word learning is the result of simple associative learning mechanisms, and it rejects as well the notion that children possess constraints, either innate or learned, that are specifically earmarked for word learning. This theory is extended to account for how children learn names for objects, substances, and abstract entities, pronouns and proper names, verbs, determiners, prepositions, and number words. Several related topics are also discussed, including naïve essentialism, children's understanding of representational art, the nature of numerical and spatial reasoning, and the role of words in the shaping of mental life. Key Words: cognitive development; concepts; meaning; semantics; social cognition; syntax; theory of mind; word learning. (shrink)
Although our concepts of “Mama,” “milk,” and “mice” have much in common, the suggestion that they are identical in structure in the mind of the prelinguistic child is mistaken. Even infants think about objects as different from substances and appreciate the distinction between kinds (e.g., mice) and individuals (e.g., Mama). Such cognitive capacities exist in other animals as well, and have important adaptive consequences.
Two studies demonstrate that a dispositional proneness to disgust (“disgust sensitivity”) is associated with intuitive disapproval of gay people. Study 1 was based on previous research showing that people are more likely to describe a behavior as intentional when they see it as morally wrong (see Knobe, 2006, for a review). As predicted, the more disgust sensitive participants were, the more likely they were to describe an agent whose behavior had the side effect of causing gay men to kiss in (...) public as having intentionally encouraged gay men to kiss publicly— even though most participants did not explicitly think it wrong to encourage gay men to kiss in public. No such effect occurred when subjects were asked about heterosexual kissing. Study 2 used the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2006) as a dependent measure. The more disgust sensitive participants were, the more they showed.. (shrink)
In Moral Minds, Marc Hauser makes an audacious claim about moral thought. He argues that morality is best understood in much the same way as Noam Chomsky described language: as the product of an innate and universal mental faculty. For Hauser, moral intuition is not the product of culture and education, nor is it the result of rational and deliberative thought, nor doesitreduce to the workings of the emotions. Instead, it is human nature to unconsciously and automatically evaluate the moral (...) status of human actions: to judge them as right or wrong, allowed or forbidden, optional or obligatory. (shrink)