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The context of cognitive development

Posted on January 21, 2013 by James Kohl.

The Role of Context in Shaping Cognitive Development 

Source: This View of Life

Excerpt:In conclusion, ignoring motivation and meaning—as much of the research in the social sciences routinely does—can lead to findings that do not transfer to important real-world contexts. It can result in ungenerous depictions of the cognitive abilities of people when they appear to be unable to carry out the underlying cognitive operations to solve a task that poses no important ecological challenges for them, when in actuality they often are able to carry out these cognitive operations under motivationally rich circumstances that represent important challenges for them.

My comment:

1) The challenges of nutrient availability motivate the individuals of all species but do not require cognition.
2) The challenges of nutrient-dependent reproduction motivate all species but do not require cognition.

These two biological facts represent important challenges to social scientists when they ignore details of how an environmental drive adaptively evolved from that of food ingestion in unicellular organisms to that of pheromone-controlled socialization in insects. That ignorance explains why their findings are not likely to transfer to important real-world contexts. In the “real world” olfaction and odor receptors provide a clear evolutionary trail that can be followed from unicellular organisms to insects to humans.

The chemical ecology of an organism’s epigenetic “landscape” becomes the organism’s physical “landscape” via the effects of nutrients and pheromones on chromatin remodeling and de novo gene expression, which is required for adaptive evolution. No random mutations in structures or in physical appearance are involved because adaptive evolution via natural and sexual selection is nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled. Selection occurs in the context of ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction, which is exemplified in the honeybee model organism.

When social scientists try to tell us what they know about our cognitive development outside the context of socio-cognitive niche construction, they parade their ignorance of  sensory cause and effect. Adaptive evolution is nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled. Cognitive development must be addressed in that context. For example, what the honeybee queen eats determines her pheromone production and everything else about interactions inside and outside the hive, including the neuroanatomy of the worker bees’ brain.



James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl

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