Information Processing

Information Processing

7.5 Information Processing Beyond Piaget and Vygotsky, information-processing theory provides a third major approach to understanding cognitive development. It is modeled after the way in which information flows logically in computers. Like computers, we are able to take in, store, and process words, numbers, and other information. The smooth, linear progression of information processing epitomizes the continuous view of development. Understanding mathematical concepts, for instance, progresses from being able to count in sequence, to performing simple arithmetic, and eventually to engaging in more complex operations. Knowledge of mathematical con- cepts changes not only in the way information is organized, but also in the sheer volume of concepts. The same could be said for oral language; music; understanding how chemistry, physics, and biology function in the world; and so on.

The information-processing approach is consistent with the view that cognition has biological controls. In this way, cognitive development can be compared to specific skill-based endeav- ors like playing a musical instrument, running, or drawing. We can all be trained to excel up to a certain degree, but there are individual biological limitations. Whether for a physical skill or cognition, maturation directs the gradual unfolding of potential. However, we all use informa- tion differently depending on our unique experiences and how that information is inputted into our brains (Mayer, 2012).

The Basics of Information Processing: Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval Who is the current Vice President of the United States? What is your address? What was your bill the last time you went to the grocery store? Answering these questions illustrates the foundations of information processing. In order to remember information, you must encode it in some meaningful way. When you first saw your grocery bill, you were able to encode neces- sary information. Otherwise, you would not have been able to understand what the numbers meant and take the next steps to pay. However, encoding information is no guarantee that you will be able to recall it later. In order to use the information later, you need to place it in stor- age. Like other information you encounter every day, you probably failed to store the amount of your grocery bill. On the other hand, your address is adequately stored. As such, you are able to retrieve that information.

In order to understand cognition, we want to follow the information from when it is first per- ceived to the discovery of how it comes to be used. Therefore, we focus on how information flows through the system, especially with regard to memory. We become better processors of information (more advanced cognitively) as we gather more knowledge, encode it in memory, compare it with other memories, and finally make an appropriate response. There is constant interchange between storage and processing in order to efficiently take in and use informa- tion. This feedback loop is illustrated in Figure 7.8.

Information processing is continuous and depends at least partly on context. How we learn reading demonstrates the influence of context: The key to reading better is using strategies for processing the symbols on the page. Long-term knowledge about sounds and meanings is used to decode words; a cognitive feedback loop about the reading passage is used to “update” comprehension and the meaning of new vocabulary. There is a constant interchange between storage and processing, which allows retrieval mechanisms to utilize reserved memories.

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Section 7.5 Information Processing

Fetal Learning: Early Signs of Information Processing As we mentioned in Chapter 3, research suggests that the ability to process information begins before birth. DeCasper and Fifer (1980) famously fashioned a device whereby neonates could suck on a nonnutritive nipple to control what they heard. Different sucking patterns produced either their mother’s voice or a stranger’s voice on a taped recording. Not only were the new- borns able to quickly learn different patterns of sucking, but they also chose to produce their mothers’ voices over those of other females. Other researchers have found differences in fetal heart rates as a result of exposure to the mother’s (as opposed to a stranger’s) voice, again suggesting that in utero (before birth) learning does indeed take place (Kisilevsky & Low, 1998; Krueger & Garvan, 2014; Lee, Brown, Hains, & Kisilevsky, 2007).

In another classic experiment, DeCasper and Spence (1986) asked 16 pregnant mothers to read the well-known children’s book The Cat in the Hat to their unborn fetuses, two times each day during the 6 weeks before giving birth. After the children were born, the mothers read either The Cat in the Hat or another rhyming book. DeCasper and Spence once again used their device that recorded distinctive patterns of infant sucking. This time the infants showed a decided preference for the sounds they had heard in utero. So it was not just the sound of the mother’s voice that the infants were responding to, as could be argued in the earlier experi- ment (DeCasper & Fifer, 1980), but also the distinctive words of the book! Later experiments demonstrated that fetuses could distinguish among different languages as well (Mehler et al., 1988; Moon et al., 1993). These experiments clearly demonstrate that fetuses form memories.

Though the implications of recognizing kinds of auditory stimuli are unclear, popular media and advertising praise their virtues. There are suggestions about which books to read to fetuses and whole music programs to introduce fetuses to classical music. There is no reason to assume these approaches to prenatal learning are associated with the type of long-term benefit that their manufacturers often promote. These types of toys and devices do, however, remind stu- dents that, in science, research is king. And research has yet to find that the “Mozart effect” has any implications in child development (Bangerter & Heath, 2004). On the other hand, a baby

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