Infant psychology, prejudice, and native speakers

May 15th, 2008

Fascinating article in the Telegraph about the work at Elizabeth Spelke’s “baby brain” research lab at Harvard, where they study infant cognition and learning:

More fascinating still is that Spelke’s lab has revealed a deep-seated prejudice, present in infants, that trumps racial bias: language. Dr Katherine Kinzler, though based in Harvard, spends much time running parallel studies in France. ‘Five-month-old babies will look longer at somebody who spoke to them in their language. Older infants want to accept a toy from someone who has spoken their language,’ Dr Kinzler says.

‘They like toys more that are associated with someone who has spoken their language. They prefer to eat foods offered to them by a native speaker compared to a speaker of a foreign language. And older children say that they want to be friends with someone who speaks in their native accent.’ Accents and vernacular, far more than race, seem to influence the people we like. ‘Children would rather be friends with someone who is from a different race and speaks with a native accent versus somebody who is their own race but speaks with a foreign accent.’

These findings make perfect sense according to two California-based pioneers of evolutionary psychology, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. In the Stone Age, race was next to useless as an identifier, because most people would never have travelled far enough to see anyone of a different skin colour. Accent, vocabulary and dialect would have helped distinguish friendly tribes from foes. Tooby and Cosmides concluded that humans are born with a predisposition to divide the world along ethnic lines traced out by language and accent, more than racial lines.

Via Kottke.

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Cultural frames and group activities

April 1st, 2008

Extremely interesting article.

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How to disagree

March 29th, 2008

Paul Graham is almost always brilliant and I highly recommend his book Hackers and Painters.

Here’s a great essay (and taxonomy!) on how to disagree. The web enables a global conversation, and disagreement will be an important part of that conversation. Of all the forum threads I’ve participated in, I’ve learned the most from the threads that were intense debates, and Graham’s essay shows how to make those debates as productive as possible.

This would also be a nice resource for intermediate to advanced classes.

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October 26th, 2007

Foreign Policy describes a Chinese hip-hop show as it analyzes the globalization of the art form:

“It was the perfect brew—an African-American entrepreneur promoting a Polish vodka owned by a French corporation using Chinese performers practicing an Afro-Latin influenced art form that originated in the inner cities of the United States.”

Via Slate’s periodic magazine reviews.

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