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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Social Cognition

Cognition about the social world includes conceptions about self and other, social roles, social interactions, social groups, and human behavior. It has been proposed that an understanding of the social world relies on an underlying mentalistic construal of persons, or a “theory of mind.” Adults, for example, often construe persons’ external observable actions and interactions in terms of their internal mental states, their beliefs, desires, intentions, and feelings.

Consequently, various domain-specific accounts of early cognitive development have been advanced. Some of these accounts invoke more general learning mechanisms that, when applied to people versus objects, yield different sorts of understanding. Other accounts invoke more neurological and modular proposals about cognition. Analogous to Noam Chomsky’s proposals that language acquisition is served by a specially dedicated innate language acquisition device, it is possible that special mental modules and innate representations underlie early knowledge and reasoning about physical objects versus intentional human agents (Wellman & Gelman, 1998)

Information Processing

Young children remember enormous amounts of information. Consider word learning. By first grade, children are estimated to know 10,000 or more words. In the years from 2 to 4, children can acquire as many as 30 to 40 new words a week.

Three- and four-year-olds, like adults, are often 80 to 100% correct when shown scores, even hundreds, of pictures and then later required to recognize the old ones mixed in with new ones (Bjorklund & Schneider, 1998).

Infants who habituate more rapidly to a picture, and dishabituate more when a novel picture is then shown, reliably test higher on IQ tests at 5 and 6 years (Bornstein & Sigman, 1986)

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