The Foundations of Mind: Origins of Conceptual Thought

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The Foundations of Mind presents a new theory of cognitive development in infancy, focusing on the ways that perceptual information becomes transformed into conceptual thought. Mandler tackles issues such as how babies form concepts and begin to think before they have language, and how they can recall the past and make inductive inferences. Drawing on her extensive research, she illustrates how these processes form the conceptual basis for language and advanced thought, stressing the importance of distinguishing automatic perceptual processes from conceptualizations about what is perceived. She argues that these two kinds of learning, though sometimes confounded in psychological experimentation, follow different principles, and that it is crucial to specify the particular kind of learning required by a given task. Early preverbal concepts, although typically more general than infant perceptual categories, allow infants to make the inductive generalizations necessary for them to form theories about the world and organize their developing conceptual system into a recognizably adult form. Mandler also addresses the neglected issues of how concepts such as animacy, inanimacy, agency, goal, containment, and support are represented in the mind. She suggests that image-schemas, used by cognitive linguists to represent underlying linguistic meanings, also format the basic concepts used by infants for inferential thought and language learning. She also shows how a mechanism that analyzes spatial displays leads to mini-theories about how various objects interact with one another. Countering strong nativist and empiricist views, Mandler provides a fresh and markedly different perspective on early cognitive development, painting a new picture of the abilities and accomplishments of infants and the development of the mind.