Social Learning: an unconscious and effective way of learning

Imitation. Something our children do from a very very young age, however, it might be more complicated than it seems at first glance. This is a very special way of learning that is more than simply copying or mimicking what someone else is doing and the proof is given by many studies that reach the following conclusion: when faced by two people doing two different things to try and achieve the same goal, even a very young child will imitate the one which attained better results.

This also shows us that imitation is an intentional action with a specific goal, becoming a potent form of casual learning. It’s a secure way of getting to know objects and people, what they do and how to manipulate them, that involves observation, logic reasoning, and decision-making. We can learn a bit of everything by watching our models and according to Gopnik (2016) “developmental studies have shown […] how intelligent, complex, and subtle imitation can be, even in babies.”

Imitation gives us the possibility of learning without necessarily going for trial and error. We can simply observe other people’s actions, their consequences and formulate our own conclusions, in other words, learning.

Children will imitate the adult, believing that we know better, but they’re also able to tell when you don’t actually know what you’re doing. If you show some reluctance or officially admit you don’t know how to do something, you’re also teaching them something very important: the fact that no one knows everything. And that’s fundamental for them to build self-esteem, realizing that everyone has difficulties with some tasks.

This also allows them to develop their creativity. Children are experts in thinking outside the box if we allow them to. The moment you admit you don’t know how to use an object, for example, is the moment they start to try something new, without our prejudices and predefined ideas standing in the way, they are effectively contributing to evolution.

Emotionally and culturally, imitation allows the child to feel the sense of belonging. Every society has its own rituals, mostly without a practical meaning, keeping the group united. The imitation of those rituals will provide integration in the group to the new members.

Imitation is actually a very important tool for practical, social and cultural learning.

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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Grandmothers: the fairies of love

For most of us, the grandmother was a figure quite present throughout our childhood. They gave us their love and their patience, even when our parents were already tired of all the mess. For us, as a species, they have an important part in our personal development and nature gave us a help with that.

We live 30 years or more past our fertility period, which is very different from the rest of the species on our planet (as far as we know this reality is present just for humans and killer whales) and this has had a great impact in the way in which we raise our little ones.

According to Kristen Hawkes (cit. by Gopnik, 2016) grandmothers are of vital importance in our life, contributing “substantially to the welfare of early human children”. They have a role in feeding, caring (their help allows parents to have a bigger number of children, despite the enormous length of human childhood), they often have even more time and patience for the child and their experience can also be useful for the parents to learn how to care for their young children more effectively. The grandmothers also take benefits from this relationship, keeping themselves active and often healthier, as well as raising their self-esteem.

We are a cultural species, where the groups join together different generations and the youngest learn from the elders, giving our grandparents an important role as a link to our historical past. We learn from our ancestors’ experiences and that’s fundamental for our survival, as a species.

The idea of the grandmother that spoils the children is, in fact, recent. Throughout history they’ve had a major role in a children education, giving them great responsibilities in the child’s successful upbringing. They are teachers and caregivers and their role allows us a “longer immaturity, larger brain size, and advanced learning.” (Gopnik, 2016)

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

(Image: “Grandmother’s love” – Painted by Cynthia Snider)

Love is complicated: children and the biggest long-term commitment

As a species, we have a unique ability for loving. We love and care for our partners, our children and grandchildren, and sometimes even people that aren’t related to us. We live longer than most species, eventually enduring menopause which gives us quite uncommon situations, where nature is concerned, and a special relationship with our grandchildren.

Sexually, we’re mostly, a monogamous species, which is a rare situation amongst the majority of the animals, and even other monogamous ones seem to have sex with different partners, as some recent DNA studies had shown. However, for our species, this goes further than sex and providing for children, as we have the complicated social, institutional and legal parts of our system and society, accounting for this.

The “ideal” situation changes regularly, depending on the time and culture of each population. It can go from a lifetime of being faithful, to a complete and total freedom. Objectively, none of them is perfect, one partner might become boring and multiple partners might lead to jealousy and problems eventually.

 

Monogamy and parenthood

Regardless of the sexual arrangement, the link between sex and love is deeply “ingrained and widespread in human culture” (Gopnik, 2016), but pair-bonding is extremely correlated with “paternal investment”. Our babies are very fragile and “needy” and not that long ago child mortality was a big issue amongst our species.

Humankind didn’t need much time to realize that due the specific characteristics of our babies it was better to have fewer children and more resources for each one. Cooperation between men and women (even with different roles) would give our infants better chances of survival. This might explain our monogamous tendency.

An overwhelming love

Romantic love is known for being almost hallucinogenic, being said to alter your consciousness, making you perceive the person you love as far more perfect than they actually are. Same happens with babies. You can’t hear your newborn crying and stand indifferent to them unless you’re terribly ill.

Many of our babies’ characteristics help us love them irrationally. They are small and cute and somehow, we want to protect them. But our nature went further than that and made sure oxytocin had something to do with it.

During labor, women are flooded with oxytocin, a very important neurotransmitter that leads us to a caring behavior towards the newborn, and this act of caring will refill our oxytocin levels. It’s a cycle. Of course we’re never really this simple and our brain, our genes, and experiences will interfere with this cycle, but generally speaking, this is how it works.

“Children are the purest example of specific long-term commitments and attachments.” (Gopnik, 2016) And to deal with that, nature made us love them more than ourselves.

REFERENCES

GOPNIK, Alison (2016). The Gardener and the Carpenter. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Analyzing Rorschach: Major Details

When a patient talks about what he sees on the board they don’t always ‘use’ the whole entirety of the pattern to do it. Sometimes they just pick a significant part of it, focus in on it and start describing by what they interpret there. This is what we call major details and it can say a lot about your patient.

To be considered as a ‘major details’ answer, your patient has to pick a part of the board that is a frequent clipping in their population. Those details belong to the record of the factors implied in the cognitive functioning and its interpretation is based on the associated determinants (shape and color).

Perception of the shape

The way your patient perceives the shape he chooses is fundamental to the interpretation. It reveals his ability to control and adapt to reality without becoming disorganized. This kind of patient shows a strong ego, is an objective person and with some need for control over his life (in extreme cases, this might be a defense mechanism).

If your patient shows an inadequate perception (perceptive control of low quality), he might be unable to accomplish the defense mechanism he intended to. This might mean some adaptive problems, the affectivity overlaps everything else.

Interpretation

If you are facing a tremendous amount of ‘major details’ answers, this could mean that your patient is in a state of withdrawal from reality, sometimes showing a fragmented representation of himself. Sometimes, this is a necessary defense mechanism this person is using to help themselves stay within the confines of reality.

If your patient gives you a lot of ‘major details’ answers, but it’s not exaggerated, and sometimes he or she can actually give global answers as well, you’re probably in the presence of a person inside reality, that uses concrete, known objects to face their psychological emergencies, theirs being conflictual or affective.

Analyzing Rorschach: Global Answers – they are not all the same

How I mentioned before the apprehension mode is key, essentially fundamental to a better interpretation of a Rorschach test. In this post, we’re gonna talk about the global answers, which means, when the patient look at the ink spots as a single object or image.

Simple Global Answers

The patient does not elaborate much, which normally shows low investment in the test, however, provides us an easy way to read it. The answers are almost immediate and without any cognitive effort, you’ll find the test to be full of banal answers.

This subject is usually well adapted, with good cognitive functioning and a stable identity, based in and inside reality.

Vague Global Answers

Vague global answers can show an unsound approach of the world around the subject, which tells us that the subject doesn’t have his own identity well defined, especially if the answers are made with formal determinant.

However, most of the times, vague answers are used as a defensive process from our subject, who means to avoid the test itself, perceiving it as dangerous or a source of anxiety. It’s important that the therapist assures the patient that they’re in a secure environment.

Impressionists Global Answers

Based on the sensory determinant, these are answers that focused on the color of the inkblots, leading us to affections and emotions the patient experiences. The patient shows himself, most susceptible, intensely sensitive expressing his emotions.

As the former ones, this might be used as a defense mechanism to avoid particular themes or anguishes.

Combined or Elaborated Global Answers

In this type of answers, you can see an effort to combine different parts of the inkblot, there is more investment from the subject and, consequently, more projection. It shows us the existence of very personal psychic space and affectivity and a rich ability to think about them.

However, it’s very important to pay attention to the perception the subject shows. A good perception might tell us that we are in presence of a very creative person, yet, an incorrect perception might tell us that our patient could be unadjusted and have a somewhat severe difficulty in the mental organization.

Interpretation

Interpreting this or any other kind of answers should be done very carefully. The same type can means different things, according to the content and the person we have in front of us, so I’m just giving you global guidelines of what to look for, in order to help you to organize yourself.

As an internal process, global answers means that our patient is trying to look at the whole board and give an answer that might involve everything he’s seeing, a full or global meaning. This might show us, according to what he says, a huge capacity of elaboration (when you get very elaborated answers) or a lack of curiosity, and eventual disinvestment in the test when the subject does not explore the ink blot.

About his own image of the self, again, can also mean two different things. It can mean that your subject recognizes his own integrity and the surrounding objects, or, otherwise, that he is just defending himself from what he could actually see there, facing the test as a dangerous intrusion. Usually, this kind of patient uses the global answers to avoid losing control over the whole ordeal and the test. They provide the easiest way of controlling the whole testing situation.

Differences in Parent/Child Relationship: an evolutionary approach

In the past few decades the world evolved very rapidly and, logically, that affects children and their parents too.

If we look backward, children used to have to grow up way faster than they do now, becoming independent at a much younger age. However, even when we’re looking at older cultures, we can spot something very curious: even then, grandmothers had a major role in child care, leading us to think about how important they always have been throughout human evolution.

As a species, we have the longest childhood out of all beings we know, and lately, it seems to have become even longer. We are more and more dependent on our parents for more and more years. Why? Well, comparing ourselves with other animals, there are a few things to keep in mind. The average lifetime of a species seems to have a great impact on the length of their childhood, for example. Thinking of a species that have lots of children, with rapid growth, they’re usually species where most of the young do not reach the state of adulthood. In our case, it’s quite the opposite, and even more-so: we demand a great deal of investment.

Another important fact is the brain size. A bigger brain, that provides the animal with more skills is, in the great majority of times, equivalent to a bigger childhood, which is not that surprising since they need more time to learn all of the skills they can muster, so they end up needing their parents care and guidance for a longer period of time. Seems unfair perhaps, but, this learning will be fundamental for the evolution of the species.

Talking about our species, this is especially true. Our children need us and even after becoming independent adults, we still need our parents for so many things at times! Sometimes, it seems like we’re never truly independent, but in fact, we are independent way before we realize that, we just need some help from time to time, due the fact that there are so many skills to learn, that it’s impossible to know them all.

The human being is always changing and this change occurs really quickly because our world changes in the blink of an eye and each generation has new problems to face, new skills to learn and sometimes a completely different environment they’ll have to grow up in. So, as easily as we can learn what our parents can teach us, it’s even more easily that we try to find new solutions for emerging problems and new uses for tools. But these things require time and patience.

With all those changes, adaptation is the most valuable lesson a parent can give their child, and personally, I think that’s one of the reasons for the decrease of an authoritarian parenthood. Parents more and more, are aware that they don’t know everything, so instead of telling their children how to do it, they help them find their own way to a solution that works for them. This is the best way we have found to get our children to face the future without fear.

Attachment and Caregivers

Most of the studies about this are made with mothers, however, with women’s emancipation, many children have different caregivers during the day, sometimes not related to them or not even from the same culture.

A child will develop attachment for different people, with different personalities, points of view and reactions and that will have an important impact on the said child. They learn in different ways, from different people and that will have a reflection on them as human beings.

Also, nowadays, our children receive lots of information from so many different sources. Parents are no longer the only model. That will allow them to observe and realize how confident the adults are about something and compare different reactions in different people.

According to Gopnik “from a very early age, they make judgments about whether other people are credible and reliable” and that includes parents. This means that as parents we might have a harder situation educating them, forcing us to be more open and talk with our children instead of merely spouting “that’s it, because I said so”, as our parents or grandparents used to say to us.

Genetics versus Environment

There are plenty of studies about how much each of these two factors can influence our personality, our behavior and who we are in general. Genetics play a great deal, but the environment where we grow and develop ourselves has a lot of say in our self too. The complex interaction between these two aspects was the focus of many recent studies that concluded we face a great unpredictability regarding the way they influence each other (Gopnik, 2016).

We can extrapolate this to the parents-children relationship: children have a certain influence over their parents’ behavior, as well as do the parents have influence over their children’s behavior, but this doesn’t mean we can seemingly predict what one of the parts will do, just by observing the other one’s behavior.

The truth is that there is another point of great relevance that seems to make all the difference: resilience. A child with great resilience can endure and resist in any kind of environment, as well as, a child with low resilience might have problems even if he or she lives with the “perfect” family. That’s why we have children from complicated environments that become productive, independent and happy adults and children coming from good environments who end up becoming troublemakers.

We are models for the young ones, there is no doubt, but they will observe our behavior, our actions, try to understand how things work out and finally live their lives, formulate their behavior and act according to their own personality and will.

So… what is the parents function after all?

 

Protective Parents. Let’s mold him our way

Nowadays, it’s quite common what we call helicopter parents, which tends to mean the parent that overprotects their child. Let me tell you, as a mother, that it’s perfectly normal to have the temptation of protecting them from everything and raise them in a bubble where nothing can hurt them. It’s our instinct, but it’s the worst thing you could do…

Individually, they’ll become fearful and unadapted. We want our children to have the best they can, but the world will not be easy on them, so… the faster they learn to solve problems, the better.

Socially, we’ll be raising a big problem for our society. Yes, we can’t forget that our children are members of a society, even a species and they have their own part and stake in. The most difficult of it all is: we don’t know what part will that be.

Children, they are a fundamental piece of the evolutionary system. They take what we give them and transform it, make it evolve, in order to solve new problems they have to face. If we protect them from everything and don’t let them “expand”, they will not be able to do this. Gopnik (2016) says “We give children the resources, tools and, the infrastructure they need to solve problems we haven’t even thought of yet.”

 

Social Environment and Intergenerational Transmission

Social is a word that might define the human being. Each person has an important need for belonging… children are not different. The social environment and the models a child gets through his or her life are key pieces of how that child will survive and adapt later on. They learn from us, but also transform what they see according to their personality.

Learning is the way children evolve, but it’s also the way they adapt to the world. That learning process is especially received from other people. The adults have, this way, an important role to play and they have to adapt to it as well. This adaptation will provide them the tools to take care of and teach their children. According to Gopnik (2016), “many biologists think those facts played a major role in our evolutionary success.”

First psychologists believed that our brains developed abilities to solve specific problems, but that vision had long since changed over time. Nowadays, “more and more theorist point to the evolution of wide-ranging and broad-based kinds of learning and cultural transmission” (Gopnik, 2016). This will provide us with the ability to develop new cognitive skills to solve unexpected problems.

Children also have a great role in maintaining tradition. The truth is that the intergenerational transmission is also quite important for human development. How? Feedback loops. They will provide us the possibility to evaluate, improve and adapt, something impossible to have happened without the previous generations acquired knowledge.

We still don’t know for sure how this interaction, between the two forces of innovation and imitation, works. However, it is obvious that in each generation, both make an appearance and a contribution, thus getting our species to evolve and survive. Sometimes little things can make the difference, a slightly different way of doing something can turn out to later on, throughout generations, represent a massive change for all of us.