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Article

Development of Visually Guided Action  

Peter Vishton

Humans use visual information to select, plan, and control nearly all actions that they perform. Children are born with the ability to perform some actions, while others emerge only after several months. For instance, newborn infants can direct their eyes to attractive stimuli, but they are unable to smoothly follow these stimuli if they move. Many factors influence the action abilities of children and adults. As children mature, they become stronger and able to more precisely control their bodies. The interactions that the children have with their environment matter a great deal as well, such that the age at which children gain particular action abilities varies widely. Some developmental changes are highly action- and context-specific, but other changes broadly influence cognitive development. For instance, learning to walk enhances children’s language development. An understanding of visually guided action development is thus essential to any complete theory of human mental development. Characterizing the development of visually guided action abilities provides a better understanding of mental and physical development as well as enabling insights into how visually guided actions are learned and controlled in adults.

Article

Historical Psychology  

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.

Article

The Origin of Psychology in the Humanities  

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.

Article

Statistical Learning  

Louisa Bogaerts, Noam Siegelman, and Ram Frost

Statistical learning refers to the ability to pick up on the statistical regularities in our sensory environment, typically without intention or conscious awareness. Since the seminal publication on statistical learning in 1996, sensitivity to regularities has become a key concept in our understanding of language acquisition as well as other cognitive functions such as perception and attention. Neuroimaging studies investigating which brain areas underpin statistical learning have mapped a network of domain-general regions in the medial temporal lobe as well as modality-specific regions in early sensory cortices. Research using electroencephalography has further demonstrated how sensitivity to structure impacts the brain’s processing of sensory input. In response to concerns about the large discrepancy between the very simplistic artificial regularities employed in laboratory experiments on statistical learning and the much noisier and more complex regularities humans face in the real world, recent studies have taken more ecological approaches.