Tag Archives: megan lengel

Gendered Intelligence

When reading the textbook, I came across the passage talking about intelligence differences between genders, and I was immediately inspired to write this blog post. As a feminist, I of course would like to think that men and women are equal in all instances, but the fact remains that biologically, this is not the case. I appreciated that the text did amend its statement by saying that men and women are each better at certain ways of thinking, doing away with the assumption that one gender is simply inherently more intelligent than the other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

One common assumption I seem to come across very often is that men are naturally better at mathematics and the sciences, while women are naturally more astute in the fine arts. This is essentially incorrect, but as this article states, there are “recognised, small but observable and replicable, sex differences at all stages at life” that seem to lend some credence to this assumption. Women are more emotionally and socially attuned to their surroundings with, on average, better hearing and a predilection to be more vocal. They are also better with words than males, being able to read more fluently and develop larger vocabularies. On the other hand, males are more interested in systems and physical stimuli; they show narrow interests and use language primarily to get what they want. Males also are less communicative and are more concerned with dominance than females are. As stated in this article, males are also better at mathematical reasoning, which lends a modicum of truth to the common assumption stated earlier. The author stresses that all these observable gendered traits are not true for all individuals, and that intelligence cannot be measured by such small differences. If it were, then only boys would become math majors in college! All these differences must be taken with a grain of salt. The age-old argument of nature vs. nurture thus comes up in this conversation, as it usually does with any other. Though males may be more naturally inclined to enjoy rough-and-tumble play while girls are more sedentary, this does not prove true for all girls and boys.

Additionally, as stated in this article, intelligence is not only judged by natural predilections – it’s determined by opportunities presented by the real world. Men and women may differ in these small ways simply because women are historically given worse educations and less opportunities to expand their minds and gain knowledge. Thus we can determine that intelligence has nothing to do with gender – it’s purely reliant on the individual’s ability to gain and retain information and the opportunities they have been given to do so. Yes, much of intelligence is biological, but as stated in the text and the article above, personal and societal expectations are what play into performances and advancements (or stunting) of intelligence. Intelligence itself has absolutely nothing to do with gender, other than the small observable differences that don’t even apply to every single human being in existence. Gender is on a spectrum, and so must be intelligence.

Language Acquisition

In our discussion of language, I was very much intrigued by how people learn languages. I was in particular curious as to why it is easier for some people to learn more languages than others. When thinking of this I was not thinking in terms of age in correlation to language acquisition, but rather to how people in general, within the critical period of language acquisition, managed to differ so greatly in ability. Being profoundly deaf myself, my thoughts then turned to deaf people. I had often wondered if there were any benefits to learning American Sign Language at an early age – my research thus turned to looking at people that had learned ASL at an early age as opposed to people that had not, and comparing their ability to learn new languages.

As I looked at all the research, I was intrigued to see how in consensus everyone seemed to be. Never have I come across a field of research that has such a profound unity in conclusions. I am glad to say that it is indeed true that those that are exposed to language at an early age are indeed endowed with better language acquisition skills. This study, as well as every single other one I have come across, states that “the outcome of language acquisition is not uniform over the lifespan but rather is best during early childhood.” As every Psychology major knows, an individual’s ability to learn language over time diminishes, as the brain becomes less malleable and retention ability lessens. Thus, the best time to ensure that one can learn many languages is at a very early age. The same study also states that though the critical period hypothesis originally was proposed for spoken language, the same can be said for sign language. It can be agreed, however, that it is much easier to teach an infant that is unable to talk how to make specific hand gestures than it is to teach them how to speak. Thus, it can be assumed that simple signs are easier to teach than simple words. The same study also found that learning ASL had profound effects on “all levels of linguistic structure and are greater for first as compared to second language acquisition,” further stating that native learners of ASL – those that had been taught since birth – were more able to comprehend scenarios signed in both ASL and in Pidgin Signed English than those that had learned at ages 9-16 (normative learners). In addition, critical period effects have been found “on all measures of language comprehension examined to date, namely, working memory, narrative comprehension, sentence memory and interpretation, and on-line grammatical processing.”

My personal experience in learning ASL I feel would corroborate many of the findings of these researchers, as it was the very first language my parents taught me before I was implanted with a cochlear implant at age two and a half. One may be thinking: “How is it possible for an infant to learn an entire language?” American Sign Language is a legitimate language, complete with grammar, syntax, and all the other components languages possess, so indeed it is not. My parents instead taught me baby sign language. Defined as “a specialized sign language used to communicate with preverbal infants and toddlers,” it is believed that, amidst a host of other benefits (read the article! It’s quite fascinating), the ability to sign basic words “could prove helpful in boosting communication and providing a ‘bridge to the spoken word.'” It may also facilitate the acquisition of verbal and written forms of communication later on. This is why I do feel as if my fluency in English and my almost flawless speaking voice (in comparison to those of other deaf people) is due in part to being taught a language at such an early age –  I also reached college reading level when I was in second grade, and went on to win speaking contests. Of course, success varies depending on the person in question (environment, disposition, disability, etc.), but I have always felt that my fluency in ASL, English, and Braille are all due in a big part to my exposure when I was an infant. Presently, more than 80% of children that are born deaf are implanted. Many are implanted in their earlier years, the earliest permissible age being (in the US) 12 months of age. Those that are not implanted until later, and even some that are implanted early (as success is highly variable), do not receive exposure to language. According to this article, “children who have not acquired a first language in the early years might never be completely fluent in any language,” and subsequent development of such cognitive activities as literacy, memory organization, and number manipulation would most probably be stunted. Early exposure to ASL for deaf children can sometimes be vital. This is not to say that only deaf children benefit – as I stated earlier, hearing children receive numerous benefits as well.

The consensus of every single source I came across confirmed my suspicions – early exposure to American Sign Language indeed does enable individuals to more easily learn additional languages and retain the information. Those that do not are certainly not unable to do so, but would be required to put in more hard work, and are much more likely not to retain as much of the newly-learned languages as those that learn ASL early. I am thrilled with the results I found in conducting research, and have gained an even more profound love and appreciation for the very first language I ever learned – American Sign Language.

Inattentional Blindness

As evidenced by my previous post, I have always been fascinated with the concept of blindness – all types, in fact. Since I discovered my love and interest in psychology, I have found myself to be more aware of examples of anything I learn in class or from the textbooks in everyday life, particularly examples of any kind of blindness. A couple of weeks back my friends and I got together for out weekly Tuesday dinners at Seacobeck. While one of my friends – Timmy – got up from the table to get more food, my prankster friend decided to steal his phone and stash it in my coat pocket. As a side note, my coat is black. When he came back, it took him about twenty minutes to realize his phone was gone. Once he reached that realization, he began quizzing us on where it was. I gave him three clues:

1) It’s in a deep, dark place where hidden objects often go.
2) It’s in a place of pitch blackness.
3) You’re looking right at it.
(He sat across the table from me.)

Regardless of these clues, Timmy simply could not figure out where his phone was, looking under the table, in the flag, in my black purse, and in my shoes. I was surprised that he missed the most obvious of places – my coat. I then began to wonder: “Is it simply because it’s so obvious, that he missed it?” This brought me back to our discussion of inattentional blindness, something I think Timmy perfectly demonstrated that night in Seacobeck.

An article in the Psychological Review refers to many incidents where people fail to notice stimuli appearing in front of their eyes when they are preoccupied with an attention-demanding task; the task Timmy in particular was preoccupied with was finding his missing cell phone. In this article, each study refers to incidents when people were so focused on one task, they missed another stimulus that may seem blatantly obvious to others. For example, there was an American naval submarine that slammed into a Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine crew members and students on board. When questioned, the crew in the sub all insisted that while quickly scanning the waters for enemies and other submarines, they had simply missed the fishing trawler. While this is a catastrophic example, one that certainly does not have a very clear correlation to Timmy’s search, it makes me think of how exactly he was searching for his cell phone. Instead of looking carefully and really thinking about the clues I gave him, he was scanning the area around where we were sitting very quickly, not lingering on any object. When thinking about this case of the submarine and traffic accidents where drivers missed seemingly obvious obstacles in their way, I am able to see how Timmy may have missed the obvious choice of my black coat.

Though Timmy admittingly does not have the best common sense in the world, I still don’t want to think that he simply did not even consider the fact that the phone in my pocket – in fact, the reason my friend hid the phone in my pocket was because she thought it would be the first place he would think of. As this article points out, there is a phenomenon within inattentional blindness, called implicit perception, that suggests that when people don’t consciously notice a stimuli, it still is encoded outside of their awareness, also determining their future behaviors. As Timmy did finally decide that I had it hidden somewhere in my coat (nearly half-an-hour later), this suggests that he had registered the existence of my coat in his consciousness, but didn’t access it until we practically gave away the location.

This experience of inattentional blindness in my everyday life was not only hilarious and slightly annoying, it further instilled in me an understanding of this concept, as well as a deeper understanding of the mind of my friend Timmy. I look forward to more times I can experience the concepts of cognitive psychology in real life!

Blindness

When reading the chapters in the textbook about vision and all the different ways we rely on vision to perform the simplest of tasks, one question struck me – What happens to all these functions when someone is blind? How does this affect the way the brain operates? When searching for articles or even mentions in social media concerning blindness, I was dismayed to find a lack of articles concerning congenital blindness or even any kind of physical blindness – every article I came across in most psychology websites had topics ranging from inattentional blindness, color blindness (both physical and theoretical), and so on. I am disappointed to see the apparent lack of interest in how individuals, born blind, operate in their daily lives as opposed to how sighted individuals do so. I would have thought there would be a greater interest. That being said, I was able to find a few articles that addressed the topic of the effect of blindness on the brain.

This article in Science Daily examines how blindness causes the brain to make basic structural changes, suggesting that blindness not stemming from brain damage can cause the brain to rearrange itself, much as it does for the deaf. Since vision proves to be what supplies the brain with the majority of its input in a normal sighted person, one must assume that this huge lack in sensory input leaves the brain wanting. Scientists from the UCLA Department of Neurology suggest that the lack of this one vital sense enhances others in its stead. When these researchers looked at the brains of the blind, they noticed that the regions in the brain used for visual input were physically smaller in volume than those of sighted individuals. In those areas of the brain that didn’t use visual input, the same researchers noticed a vast increase in volume. The brain itself didn’t reduce in size – rather, the lack of the expected volume in the visual areas prompted the other areas to compensate. This particular study exemplifies and further proves the amazing plasticity of the brain; for people blind since birth or since infancy, this plasticity is further evidenced, as it’s the period in which the brain is much more modifiable than in adulthood. One of the areas in the brain these particular researchers at UCLA’s Department of Neuro Imaging found to be enlarged in the brains of the blind proved to be the frontal lobes, which are involved with, among other things, working memory. This, as well as other areas in the brain they found to be abnormally enlarged, suggested a possible explanation for the perceived enhancements in the sensory abilities of the blind.

Previous studies have found that when walking down a corridor with windows, the blind are adept at detecting the windows’ presence because they can feel subtle changes in temperature and distinguish between the auditory echoes caused by walls and windows. This may call into mind for some the sensation of echolocation, a sensory tool used by bats to sense their prey. James Roberts, a man that went completely blind at age 25 and subsequently became one the greatest travelers the world has ever seen, championed the use of echolocation to teach blind children how to independently live their lives. He cited “seeing with sound” as what helped him develop a sense of his surroundings; many researchers have used the story of Roberts as a baseline to further examine the link blindness and heightened awareness in other senses. While an intriguing thought, a flaw was immediately found – one can use echolocation for sensing larger objects and for moving around in the environment, but when reaching for a fork or a pen, echolocation as a tool falls flat. Blind people are not bats.

I would remind you about the finding in the first article by the researchers at UCLA, regarding the plasticity of the brain at a young age. Neuroscientists at McGill University conducted this study, testing blind and sighted participants in their abilities to sense changes in pitch and their ability to locate sounds. What they found was unprecedented. While the blind participants generally scored higher in the tests than their sighted counterparts, as the neuroscientists expected, an unseen variable was revealed. They discovered that the ages of the participants affected their performance. Participants “born blind did best, those who became blind as small children were slightly behind, and those who lost their vision after age 10 did no better than the sighted subjects.” Using this data, it was assumed that young brains, when in the developmental stage, can be rewired as to use their visual-processing areas for other purposes. Additionally, blind subjects that scored well in the study “were engaging both the auditory and the visual areas of the cortex. Those who scored low, as well as sighted subjects, “had little or no activity in the visual lobe.” Similar results were produced in studies on odor discrimination and tactile sensation.

Though evidently not much research has been done on the subject of the effect of blindness on the construction and use of the brain, these studies show that in most cases, blindness can heighten other senses. The variable of when the subjects became blind seems to be the biggest stimuli to keep in mind while conducting these studies. The only consensus scientists seem to have come to is that blindness does indeed amplify certain senses, though the degree to which this occurs in certain control groups appears to still be heavily debated today. One can only hope that the blind can find comfort in the apparent discovery that they are bats. If it’s any consolation, echolocation can be used to do pretty cool stuff, as evidenced by the blind Earthbender Toph Beifong:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukr5c07gaUI

I hope that there are more studies done on this topic, as I would like to see a more comprehensive theory behind the changes in the brains of the blind.