The Ontogenesis of the Gurwitschian Perceptual Structure Part II

Date: Wed 10 Sep 2003 - 00:07:42 GMT

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    Apparently, although parts I and III of this paper posted, Part II failed to. Here it is... THE CONTRIBUTION OF SEMIOTICS

    The growth of the discipline of semiots has furnished investigators with more precise and powerful ways of seeking to answer such questions. Semiotics is the study of signs and sign systems, and is subdivided into syntactics (the study of sigh-sign relations within a sign system), pragmatics (the study of the relationship of signs to their producers), and semantics (the study of the relationship between signs and the referents which they represent). Far broader than the study of language per se, semiotics studies all types of symbolic behavior, and insights garnered in the field have made possible the deveopment of experiments the results of which unambiguously indicate the presence or absence of capacities within preverbal infants. For instance, a study by Lewis and Brooks-Gunn (1979) explored the acquisition of self-awareness in preverbal infants by attempting to elicit behavior symbolic of its presence or absence. Infants were placed in front of mirrors after a spot of rouge was applied to each infant's nose. If the infant ignored the rouge or touched the mirror
    (as if the image was one of a conspecific, or another infant), self- awareness was judged to be absent. If, however, the infant touched his or her own nose, he or she was deemed to be self- aware. Such nose-touching behavior was never observed in infants younger than fifteen months of age, and rarely prior to eighteen; between the ages of eithteen and twenty months a dramatic increase in self-directed behavior was noted, and at the age of twenty-four months practiaclly all subjects tested touched their noses. This is the same period in which object permanence appears, thus corroborating Piaget's hypothesis that construction of self and reality proceed in parallel from their perceptual interface into internalized self-identity and externalized world- stability (1972, 1976). An experiment of this type would seem to offer the best hope of investigating the development of perceptual structure within the child.


    The disruption of the mother's face-voice relationship has been shown to distress infants four months old, and perhaps as early as one month old (Aronson & Rosenbloom, 1971; Carpenter, 1973; McGurk and Lewis, 1974). This entails that by the age of four months (and possibly earlier), both the mother's face and her voice are known to and recognizeable by the infant, and this fact can be used in studies based upon selective attention.


    Infants of various ages are chosen who demonstrate selective attention to pictures of their mothers' faces. They are than presented with increasingly abstract representational renderings of their mothers' faces, nested within arrays of representations, rendered in the same styles, of the faces of adults unfamiliar to them. Some forms of abstraction which readily suggest themselves are color, shape (mirror distortion), and gestalt closure, as well as two or more types of alteration in concert. The percentage of presence of selective attention to the renderings of their mothers' faces is noted for each age group and the data is analyzed for significant statistical differences.


    Infants are chosen who display selective attention to recordings of their mothers' voices. They are than presented with increasingly distorted recordings of their mothers' voices, nested within sequences of strangers' voices distorted in the same manner. Possible forms of distortion include pitch, timbre, inflection, and two or more types of distortion in combination. The percentage of presence of selective attention to the recordings of their mothers' voices is noted for each age group and the data is anlyzed for significant statistical differences.


    In both experimental cases, the develoment of perceptual sophistication in the studied modality may be inferred from the level of abstraction and distortion which nevertheless elicits statistically significant selective attention from the preverbal infants. It is hypothecized that older infants will selectively attend to more complexly altered stimuli, and that critical periods akin to the one for self-awareness which Lewis and brooks-Gunn found will be discovered, one for visuospatial stimuli and one for auditory stimuli, where dramatic increases in the infants' recognition (measured via selective attention) of altered or distorted mother-based stimuli will be observed, and that these critical periods will be mappable onto the sequence of cortical myelination noted in Kraft.

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