The relations among language, culture, and thought are complex. The empirical evidence from diverse domains suggests that culture affects language, language affects thought, and universally shared perception and cognition constrain the structure of language. Although neither language nor culture determines thought, both seem to highlight certain aspects of the world, with stronger influence when there are no clear perceptible categories. Research must delve into how language, culture, perception, and cognition interact with one another across different domains.
Mutsumi Imai, Junko Kanero, and Takahiko Masuda
Martin J. Packer and Michael Cole
There is growing appreciation of the role of culture in children’s psychological development (also called human ontogenesis). However, there are several distinct approaches to research on this matter. Cross-cultural psychology explores the causal influence of culture on differences in children’s development, treated as dependent variables. Researchers interested in the role of cultural learning in human evolution view culture as beliefs and values that are transferred from the mind of one individual to that of another. By contrast, “cultural psychology” views culture not as a cause, but a constituent of human psychological functioning. It invites us to pay attention to the fact that humans live in societies filled with material artifacts, tools, and signs that mediate human activity; that is to say, they provide the means with which people interact with the world around them and with one another. From this perspective, culture provides constituents that are essential to human development: it has a constitutive role in development. Although there continues to be much debate over how to define culture, it is generally agreed that different human social groups have distinct cultures, and it is common to assume that cultural differences lead to differences in the trajectories of children’s development. This is true, but it is also the case that culture is a universal requirement for development. Every child is born into a family and community with a language, customs, and conventions, and in which people occupy institutional roles with rights and responsibilities. These facts define universal requisites of human psychological development and include the acquisition of language, the development of a social identity, the understanding of community obligations, and the ability to contribute to the reproduction of the community. The interdependence of human communities—which probably had its origins in collaborative foraging and cooperative childrearing—seems to have placed species-specific demands on children’s development, selecting for the capacity to acquire a sensitivity not only to people’s goals and intentions but also to rights and responsibilities.
Noemi Pizarroso Lopez
Historical psychology claims that the mind has a history, that is, that our ways of thinking, reasoning, perceiving, feeling, and acting are not necessarily universal or invariable, but are instead subject to modifications over time and space. The theoretical and methodological foundations of this movement were laid in France by psychologist Ignace Meyerson in his book Les fonctions psychologiques et les œuvres, published in 1948. His program stressed the active, experimental, constructive nature of human behavior, spanning behavioral registers as diverse as the linguistic, the religious, the juridical, the scientific/technical, and the artistic. All these behaviors involve aspects of different mental functions that we can infer through a proper analysis of “works,” considered as consolidated testimonies of human activity. As humanity’s successive achievements, constructed over the length of all the paths of the human experience, they are the materials with which psychology has to deal. Meyerson refused to propose an inventory of functions to study. As unstable and imperfect products of a complex and uncertain undertaking, they can be analyzed only by avoiding the counterproductive prejudice of metaphysical fixism. Meyerson spoke in these terms of both deep transformations of feelings, of the person, or of the will, and of the so-called “basic functions,” such as perception and the imaginative function, including memory, time, space, and object. Before Meyerson the term “historical psychology” had already been used by historians like Henri Berr and Lucien Febvre, a founding member of the Annales school, who firmly envisioned a sort of collective psychology of times past. Meyerson and his disciples eventually vied with their fellow historians of the Annales school for the label of “historical psychology” and criticized their notions of mentality and outillage mental. The Annales historians gradually abandoned the label, although they continued to cultivate the idea that mental operations and emotions have a history through the new labels of a “history of mentalities” and, more recently at the turn of the century, a “history of emotions.” While Meyerson and a few other psychologists kept using the “historical psychology” label, however, mainstream psychology remained quite oblivious to this historical focus. The greatest efforts made today among psychologists to think of our mental architecture in terms of transformation over time and space are probably to be found in the work of Kurt Danziger and Roger Smith.
Sven Hroar Klempe
The term “psychology” was applied for the first time in the 16th century. Yet the most interesting examples appeared in three different contexts. The Croatian poet and humanist Marko Marulić (ca. 1520), the German philosopher and Calvinist Johann Thomas Freig (1575), and the German Lutheran philosopher Rudolph Goclenius (1590). Marulić’s manuscript is likely lost, and neither of the other two defined the term. Even the interests of the three went apparently in different directions. Marulić focused on poetry and history, Freig on physica, and Goclenius on theological issues. Nevertheless, they had something in common, and this may represent the gate through which the ways they conceived the term can be understood. They all dealt with the soul, but also that it was a highly disputable concept and not uniformly understood. Another commonality was the avoidance or reinterpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy. The Florentines’ cultivation of Plato had influenced Marulić. Freig was a Ramist, thus, also a humanist who approached philosophical questions rhetorically. Goclenius belonged partly to the same movement. Consequently, they all shared a common interest in texts and language. This is just one, yet quite important aspect of the origin of psychology as a science. Thus, these text- and humanity-oriented aspects of psychology are traceable from the very beginning. This reaches a peak point when Alexander Baumgarten publishes his two volumes on aesthetics, as they were based on Christian Wolff’s Psychologia empirica (1732). They are also traceable in Kant’s critical phase, and even more in Wundt’s folkpsychology. Thus there is a more or less continuous line from the very first uses of the term psychology and some tendencies in social and cultural psychology. In other words, psychology is pursued along an historical line that ends up in the German, and not the British enlightenment.
Ekaterina Zavershneva and René van der Veer
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (real name Lev Simkhovich Vygodsky; Orsha 1896–Moscow 1934) was a Russian psychologist who created cultural-historical theory, which proved influential in developmental psychology and other psychological disciplines. Vygotsky characterized his approach as “height psychology” (as opposed to “depth psychology”) and posited that the higher forms of mind should be the starting point for the study of human development. In his view it was essential to study psychological processes in their historical dynamics; these dynamics could be unraveled with the causal-genetic approach he developed, which involved the guided formation of mind in the course of its study or the experimental unfolding of ontogeny. Vygotsky claimed that the mechanisms of human development are not genetically determined and that we must find its source in culture and the social environment. Human development is mediated by cultural artifacts and sign systems, which are mastered in a dialogue with other people in spontaneous or guided interaction, which stimulates development by creating a zone of proximal development. The major means of the transformation of innate mind into higher mind is language, which enables us to preserve and transmit the experience of generations. In this process of cultural development the person develops a system of higher psychological functions that are social in origin, voluntary and mediated in nature, and form part of a systemic whole. The process of ontogeny goes through a series of stable periods and crises that correspond with specific conditions of the social situation of development and the developmental tasks. Age periods are completed with the development of neoformations, which do not just form results but are also prerequisites for further development. With the development of verbal thinking and the mastery of cultural means of behavior the person masters her/his innate mind and becomes a personality, whose main characteristic is freedom of behavior.
Jack Kuhns and Dayna R. Touron
The study of aging and cognitive skill learning is concerned with age-related changes and differences in how we gather, store, and use information and abilities. As life expectancy continues to rise, resulting in greater numbers and proportions of older individuals in the population, understanding the development and retention of skills across the lifespan is increasingly important. Older adults’ task performance in cognitive skill learning is often equal to that of young adults, albeit not as efficient, where older adults often require more time to complete training. Investigations of age differences in fundamental cognitive processes of attention, memory, or executive functioning generally reveal declines in older adults. These are related to a slowing of cognitive processing. Slowing in cognitive processing results in longer time necessary to complete tasks which can interfere with the fidelity of older adults’ cognitive processes in time-limited scenarios. Despite this, older adults maintain comparable rates of learning with young adults, albeit with some reduced efficiency in more complex tasks. The effectiveness of older adults’ learning is also impacted by a lesser tendency to recognize and adopt efficient learning strategies, as well as less flexibility in strategy use relative to younger adults. In learning tasks that involve a transition from using a complex initial strategy to relying on memory retrieval, older adults show a volitional avoidance of memory that is related to lower memory confidence and an impoverished mental model of the task. Declines in learning are not entirely problematic from a functional perspective, however, as older adults can often rely upon their extensive knowledge to compensate for certain deficiencies, particularly in everyday tasks. Indeed, domains where older adults have maintained expertise are somewhat insulated from other age-related declines.
Simon J. Haines, Jill Talley Shelton, Julie D. Henry, Gill Terrett, Thomas Vorwerk, and Peter G. Rendell
Tasks that involve remembering to carry out future intentions (such as remembering to attend an appointment), and the cognitive processes that enable the completion of such tasks (such as planning), are referred to as prospective memory (PM). PM is important for promoting quality of life across many domains. For instance, failures in remembering to meet social commitments are linked to social isolation, whereas failures in remembering to fulfill occupational goals are linked to poorer vocational outcomes. Declines in PM functioning are of particular concern for older adults because of the strong links between PM and functional capacity. The relationship between age and PM appears to be complex, dependent on many factors. While some aspects of PM appear to hold up relatively well in late adulthood, others appear to show consistent age-related decline. Variability in age differences appears to partially reflect the fact that there are diverse types of PM tasks, which impose demands on a range of cognitive processes that are differentially affected by aging. Specifically, the level and type of environmental support associated with different PM task types appears to be a meaningful determinant of age-related effects. Given the worldwide changing age demographics, the interest in age-related effects on PM will likely intensify, and a primary focus will be how to optimize and maintain PM capacity for this population. This is already reflected in the increasing research on interventions focused on enhancing PM capacity in late adulthood, and points to important future directions in this area of study.
Michael J. Valenzuela
Cognitive reserve refers to the many ways that neural, cognitive, and psychosocial processes can adapt and change in response to brain aging, damage, or disease, with the overarching effect of preserving cognitive function. Cognitive reserve therefore helps to explain why cognitive abilities in late life vary as dramatically as they do, and why some individuals are brittle to degenerative pathology and others exceptionally resilient. Historically, the term has evolved and at times suffered from vague, circular, and even competing notions. Fortunately, a recent broad consensus process has developed working definitions that resolve many of these issues, and here the evidence is presented in the form of a suggested Framework: Contributors to cognitive reserve, which include environmental exposures that demand new learning and intellectual challenge, genetic factors that remain largely unknown, and putative G × E interactions; mechanisms of cognitive reserve that can be studied at the biological, cognitive, or psychosocial level, with a common theme of plasticity, flexibility, and compensability; and the clinical outcome of (enriched) cognitive reserve that can be summarized as a compression of cognitive morbidity, a relative protection from incident dementia but increased rate of progression and mortality after diagnosis. Cognitive reserve therefore has great potential to address the global challenge of aging societies, yet for this potential to be realized a renewed scientific, clinical, and societal focus will be required.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne
Research methods in lifespan development include single-factor designs that either follow a single cohort of individuals over time or compare age groups at a single time point. The two basic types of studies involving the manipulation of the single factors of age, cohort, and time of measurement are longitudinal and cross-sectional. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages, but both are characterized by limitations because they cannot definitively separate the joint influences of age, cohort, and type of measurement. The third group of designs involves manipulation of two or more levels of each factor to permit inferences to be drawn that separate personal from social aging. The theoretical problems involved in both the single-factor and sequential designs combine with practical issues to present lifespan developmental researchers with a number of choices in approaching the variables of interest. The theoretical problems include the inevitable linking of personal with social aging, particularly evident in single-factor designs, and the fact that selective attrition leads to the differential availability of increasingly select older samples. Practical problems include the need to assign participants to appropriate age intervals and such clerical issues as the need to track participants in follow-up investigations. Researchers must also be aware of methodological issues related to task equivalence across individuals of different ages and the need to covary for potential confounds that could lead to differences across groups of participants due to such factors as education and health status. The increasing recognition of the need to address these issues is leading to a body of literature that reflects the growing sophistication of the field along with the more widespread availability of sophisticated analytic methods. As these improvements continue to raise the level of scholarship in the field, there will be a greater understanding of both ontogenetic change as well as the influence of context on development from childhood through later life.
David J. Madden and Zachary A. Monge
Age-related decline occurs in several aspects of fluid, speed-dependent cognition, particularly those related to attention. Empirical research on visual attention has determined that attention-related effects occur across a range of information processing components, including the sensory registration of features, selection of information from working memory, controlling motor responses, and coordinating multiple perceptual and cognitive tasks. Thus, attention is a multifaceted construct that is relevant at virtually all stages of object identification. A fundamental theme of attentional functioning is the interaction between the bottom-up salience of visual features and top-down allocation of processing based on the observer’s goals. An underlying age-related slowing is prominent throughout visual processing stages, which in turn contributes to age-related decline in some aspects of attention, such as the inhibition of irrelevant information and the coordination of multiple tasks. However, some age-related preservation of attentional functioning is also evident, particularly the top-down allocation of attention. Neuroimaging research has identified networks of frontal and parietal brain regions relevant for top-down and bottom-up attentional processing. Disconnection among these networks contributes to an age-related decline in attention, but preservation and perhaps even increased patterns of functional brain activation and connectivity also contribute to preserved attentional functioning.