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Modelling individual variability in cognitive development

By Michael S.C. Thomas, Fiona M. Richardson, Neil A. Forrester and Frank D. Baughman


Investigating variability in reasoning tasks can provide insights into key issues in the study of cognitive development. These include the mechanisms that underlie developmental transitions, and the distinction between individual differences and developmental disorders. We explored the mechanistic basis of variability in two connectionist models of cognitive development, a model of the Piagetian balance scale task (McClelland, 1989) and a model of the Piagetian conservation task (Shultz, 1998). For the balance scale task, we began with a simple feed-forward connectionist model and training patterns based on McClelland (1989). We investigated computational parameters, problem encodings, and training environments that contributed to variability in development, both across groups and within individuals. We report on the parameters that affect the complexity of reasoning and the nature of ‘rule’ transitions exhibited by networks learning to reason about balance scale problems. For the conservation task, we took the task structure and problem encoding of Shultz (1998) as our base model. We examined the computational parameters, problem encodings, and training environments that contributed to variability in development, in particular examining the parameters that affected the emergence of abstraction. We relate the findings to existing cognitive theories on the causes of individual differences in development

Topics: psyc
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
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