Karla Cupa-Barron; Maria Hands Ruz; and Rouxbee Vang
It is often believed that a newborn baby is helpless. They seem as if they cannot do much more other than just eat and sleep, but overtime it has been shown that in the crib is the greatest mind that has ever existed (Gopnik et al., 1999). Developmental psychologists have focused on understanding the mind of the baby and understanding how they become the person they will be. In fact, what we learn about babies helps us understand more about ourselves and why we develop the way we do (Gopnik et al., 1999). Understanding how the mind develops also helps us understand the development of “isms”. It’s easy to think that children do not understand differences in color or gender but their minds are extremely complex and ready to learn. That is the reason why it is important for parents and guardians to teach their child how to live in a socially just world away from “isms”. Sexism for example, is an act of prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination on the basis of sex, and is something that can be taught right as these little humans are in their cribs. In order to understand how these “isms” develop it is important to understand the practices of developmental science, CNS development, perceptual development, and the key role narratives play.
The objective of developmental scientists is to figure out how humans come to understand complex ideas of their surroundings (Kleinknecht, 2020). The evolution of our knowledge and abilities as a species is remarkable. But we still need to comprehend how humans evolve a diverse set of skills throughout their lives. Developmental sciences help us to understand human behavior and interaction between cultural differences, the ability to interact with each other, and analyse and create explanations for certain behaviors. Studies focused on early stages of life in order to create an idea of how society impacts children later on. Biological factors play a key role in human development as well so it is essential to explore both of these ideas in research. Explaining children’s development helps to improve children’s well-being. Recognizing the development of certain patterns helps us to explain social issues such as sexism.
One key area of focus for developmental scientists is CNS development. There are 4 main processes involved in brain development (Keil, 2014), the first being cell proliferation where there is an increase in cell numbers resulting from cell division. Cell migration is another, the process of neurons moving through the brain tissue into their final positions. This occurs prenatally, during birth, and some in adulthood. Synaptogenesis is the process of forming new synapses, creating a vast number of connections for neurons, tuning neural networks during learning, and in some cases creating new ones while in other cases eliminating unused connections. Lastly, myelination helps speed up the transitional information along the axon by covering it in fatty substances that act as insulation. Babies at birth are not fully developed just developed enough to survive (Kleinknecht, 2020). The first to develop are the areas needed for survival, the biologically primary such as walking. Later development the more complex or biologically secondary such as gymnastics. Brain systems that support digestion, heartbeat, and breathing, will develop early, while those involved in reasoning about choices and different patterns of information develop later (Keil, 2014). Sometimes less is more in brain development and that is why the brain undergoes pruning. Pruning begins around the age of 5 and ends around adolescence. During pruning a whole neuron or the part of one not being used in a connection goes away helping the individual to not waste any metabolic energy (Keil, 2014). This increase or decrease in connections helps tune learning. We can connect this to the development of “isms” by knowing that the ones needed for survival will develop first but with time the ability to understand sexism will come. These changes in connections will also play a role because they can build connections based on what they are taught about sexism. Their brain development can cause psychological change, and experiences including their psychological components can change the brain (Keil, 2014), therefore what children learn and what they experience with “isms” can help change their brain development.
Another key focus in the area of developmental science is perceptual development. When looking at how babies have been perceived, John Locke described babies as helpless with a brain like a blank canvas, later on William James in the 20th century described them as more colorful (Keil, 2014). While observing babies, we tend to think that they don’t think or perceive much and that there is not much to them, but these babies come well equipped to make sense of the world. They seem to just eat and sleep but these 2 actions are playing a key role in their development. In the film BBC: The Secret Life of Babies, they explain that babies need a third of the calories we need because they require so much energy for growth, and milk fat is vital for the brain. The narrators also explain that sleep is needed for brain development to cope with new information they have seen out in their world. A baby’s sense of colors is poor therefore they enjoy high contrast and bright colors, they also have a good sense of hearing and can recognize their mother’s voice instantly (Revill & Clunes, 2014). They also can learn language quicker than us and understand more words than they can say (Revill & Clunes, 2014). This is important when teaching our children because we may think they don’t understand what we are saying when in fact they can understand more than we think. What we say to them at a young age plays a crucial role in what they learn.
Lastly, developmental psychologists focus on the power of narratives. Narrative practices in the early periods of development are established by a sense of family and community (Miller, 2007). The family and community becomes a part of culture they identify with. The socialization practices, the engagement, and experiences will shape how the narrative develops. Take for example the story that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares in “The danger of a Single Story”. She begins with sharing how she started reading books and writing at an early age. How she was able to interpret differences between the characters and her own life. Although her family was middle class, her father, a professor and mother an administrator they had an In-housekeeper. In which she shared a story out hearing how poor he was and a visit to his village changed her mind. She stated, “then one Saturday, we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story about them” (Adichie, 2009). Tying this back to narrative, it is important as parents to understand the types of settings a child is brought up in. Then, possibly a way to connect to those who live a different type of lifestyle. A simple visit such as this encounter changed how she viewed “poor.” Adichie’s mother may have mentioned “how poor the house boy” was, she never saw how one lived when she only had one side of the story. This could be effective in changing a child’s mindset if the only toys a boy has were not just legos but a kitchen. Or a girl who doesn’t just have a play kitchen but a play tool bench.
For some, these kinds of experiences could compel one to see things differently in another light. We’ll take Adichie’s example again in another TedTalk, “We Should All Be Feminist.” Her talking points touched on the biology of each gender however she points out that we live in a different time. Even as a female student performing at the top of her class, led to an encounter with her teacher that left her perplexed. The inequality, injustice and unfairness, simply because she was a girl was identifiable. She also shares how even much later in her career, she continues to face sexism. Her experiences at a young age helped shape how she would identify, approach and combat sexism in adulthood. Both of these Ted Talks display the power of narratives. It is this power that makes it so important that we are aware of what the narratives we pass along are teaching. Narratives shape an infant’s development in a way that can have good or bad outcomes. For example, if our narratives display sexism ideals, kids are more likely to take these narratives and internalize them.
Along with all the previous forms of development mentioned, nature and nurture play a key role in development too. It is not “nature versus nurture” instead it is nature via nurture, because without nurture there is no nature (Kleinknecht, 2020). It makes no sense to talk about them separately because in development they play roles together (Keil, 2014). We are born with expectations of how things work and through experiences we confirm those expectations. The idea of empiricism explains how the mind makes sense of the world by linking together any bits of information that have co-occurred frequently enough in experience (Keil, 2014). Nativism focused on the idea that human knowledge couldn’t be understood only in terms of an increase in complex webs of associations and looked at the nature behind it. Although these two views vary, throughout the lifespan, and even prenatally the environment plays a critical influence on how the individual develops and interacts with its biological makeup (Keil, 2014). Our experience is important with our brain development because they both shape us. For example, through both we can come to understand how an individual comes to understand “isms” and other issues.
Our actions and behaviors cannot be explained just based on one explanation. There are many factors that play into who we are today, our brain development, how we perceive things, and the stories we are told and tell. All these factors begin to play a role even at a very young age, and although babies may seem as a blank canvas they are very complex and ready to learn. It is here where parents play a key role. Parenting is the practice of inculturation, raising our kids to become functional members of society (Gopnik et al., 1999). Parents play a key role in educating their young on the issues with sexism and stopping the spread of these ideals. As Adichie explained, we need to raise our kids differently and change the roles they believe they belong in. We need to end the idea that women are the only ones to cook and clean and are below men, and that men have to be masculine and are not allowed to feel fear and weakness. Those ideals are changed by parents by ending those negative narratives that continue this toxic cycle and teaching their kids that there are no roles and both genders are equal.
From the moment we are conceived into existence in the womb of our mother, we are not birthed as ‘rational agents” of the world we arrived in (Schulz, 2015). It is the encounters we face outside of the womb that gives rise to how we process information, attach meaning, develop a perception and design a belief system that we consider is “knowledge”. Often, we are firm and confident believers of our philosophy, because we have local and subjective “evidence” to support it. This all begins with the biological organs that allow us to intake information through our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and touch. The language that surrounds us and how we use it, and the numerous processes that scholars such as Jean Piaget have laid out for us, help us understand how children perceive the world. In addition, with each section of this collaborative writing piece we will shed light on how they apply to sexism.
According to Schulz, human babies have the ability to conduct their own experiments. From those encounters, children develop biases along with influences that stimulate innate senses. Using the senses, children can better comprehend and make sense of their environment and shape their perspectives. To determine how we generalize, categorize and behave among our universe or in specific circumstances, it is all selectively fine-tuned by experiences (Keil, 2014). Keil emphasizes that the experiments of perceptual development occur during the first year of life. Infants use their senses in their environment and process the stimuli through feedback loops to gain insight, interpret their experiences and develop their perceptions (Keil, 2014). Among the human senses are visual, auditory, olfactory, gustation and tactile senses of touch. Through these avenues, infants develop their belief systems on the influences of their environment of people, language, and objects. Developing perceptions, allows us to form our cognition into a knowledge base. The goal of developing this database is to allow an individual to store references internally. Naturally, the individual will use that database of knowledge to independently govern and guide their thoughts and actions as an individual.
As mentioned, our senses drive our perception. Visually, we have abilities that are specialized with neurons in our brain to categorize what we see. It is fine tuned with acuity to determine and discriminate between contrast, hues, colors, brightness, shapes and depth. The cues that aid us to distinguish our depths are dynamic, binocular and pictorial. Visual senses allow us to conclude perceptions based on shapes, patterns, and general laws of association. Associating what we see helps us categorize and store a defined visual in our cognition.
Our auditory senses allow us to hear the sounds of our environment. From the lub-dub rhythm in the womb, to the music notes of Mozart, or the tone of voice of mom. The decibels that reach the organs of hearing can help us develop preferences and detect the location of stimulations. Keil states that the concept of sound changes over the course of development. Although infants can perceive a wide array of auditory stimuli, the ability of discrimination sounds decrease over time. Therefore, the decline of sound discrimination, leads to the dependence of other sensory modalities. In the next section of this paper, speech perception will be explained in further details.
Along with visual and auditory senses, our perceptions may not be a “complete package” without bridging it with other sensory modalities such as smell, taste and touch. Essentially, our modalities work interconnectedly to weave our perception. Intermodal perception, fuses and integrates information across our sensory modalities (Keil, 2014). An intermodal perception process example would be how we use auditory-visual, to allow us to hear a noise, use our eyes to locate its position, or visually interpret where our position is in reference to the noise. We connect the visual of objects to certain sensations of touch. Gracing your hand on the glowing red coils on a stove top is painful, whereas a red metal coiled slinky toy is cool to the touch. When senses are used together, it becomes a productive way to categorize the visual and touch.
Another example that can demonstrate the value of intermodal perception, is in the case that a Parent advises their child to “not touch the stove, because it will hurt you!” So we must look at which of the child’s senses has been stimulated? Auditorily, the child hears the advice of the parent and may visually be able to associate it with the object. The stimulation of these two senses could be enough evidence to help categorize how to respond or behave. However, we need to keep in mind that there are more than two innate senses. The combination of senses that is impactful or influential to how we would choose to behave, maybe a completely different combination compared to another child. Therefore, the audio and visual stimulations may not influence the child that responds better, to visual and the burning sensation of touching a hot stove. Only then, when they are satisfied with the evidence they collected. They can store their experience as cognition, change their behavior and hopefully prevent it from recurring.
With this information, we know perception can transform into cognition. In the context of sexism, exactly, where did the concept of sexism arise in a child’s environment as they conducted their experiments? As adults, parents, educators, caretakers, and community members who all share some type of space with the future generations and want to make change in combatting sexism. As a parent, educator, stakeholder, or caretaker of a child it would be beneficial to identify the senses that have been influential in recognizing the stimuli that ultimately shapes the perception process. It raises the questions of, how can we identify which senses create more impact or what stimuli is influential enough to shape our perception of the sexes? Can we identify or narrow down the origins of the stimuli? Is it possible to improve the implications of sexism? Is it possible to focus on staying relevant to the basics? Although perception may sound complex because of the process it leads to, innate senses for the majority are fixed variables. So, should we question the stimuli that was presented to the senses? Because, there is a possibility the most effective way a child can learn is actually sensing, your process (the adult). Therefore, the environment you create can affect how their senses shape their perception.
Language plays a key role in the development of cognition in a child. Language is acquired effortlessly and automatically from very early on in life (Keil, 2014), during the first years of life we see the emergence of natural language. At a young age, infants are able to perceive a larger number of distinct speech sounds than adults do, this changes as they are exposed to their native language more (Keil, 2014). It is believed that we come into the world biologically prepared to learn language. Noam Chomsky, shared this view and hypothesized that a child does not have to start from scratch to figure out language structure, instead he believed they have to figure out small amounts of settings for their own language (Keil, 2014). Patricia Kuhl explained a similar view in her Ted Talk “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”, she explains how babies are geniuses who are amazing at absorbing statistics on what they hear. These stats they absorb change the baby’s brain, and when exposed to foreign languages at a young age they can absorb multiple stats and be just as good as natives (Kuhl, 2010). Absorption of language follows a critical period of birth to age 7 and it is critical they are exposed to language before the period is over. In order for an infant to absorb language a human is required. Babies learn more when listening to another individual than when it is on television (Kuhl, 2010). Adults and infants work together in this development, adults look at an object and name it, the baby then follows adult gaze and their brain fires (Kleinknecht, 2020). Ideals of sexism and brain development are interconnected in that it is crucial parents and caregivers teach the correct ideals as connections develop in the infant’s brain.
Cognition follows language development through intermodal development. Verbal and visual inputs enable perception to become cognition through language (Kleinknecht, 2020). Infants learn through combining their senses, specifically what they hear and what they see. Without being able to see something, sounds are meaningless (Kleinknecht, 2020). An infant’s intermodal system begins as we hear a sound and then move our head, these actions lead infants to recognize sounds that require them to look. This intermodal system is our basis of cognition and what grows the seeds to our learning. Infants create concepts as they hear and see (Kleinknecht, 2020). As children grow up they are often exposed to different auditory and visual stimuli. There are different colors and roles associated with gender. For example, girls tend to use the color pink from a young age and play with dolls. These children grow up seeing and hearing what their gender roles should be therefore creating biases and concepts on what defines a gender.
Cognition and meaning making is formed through categories tied to language. Semantic development, the emerging understanding of word meanings and their interrelationships requires linking words to concepts (Keil, 2014). Humans have the tendency to make sense of the social world by classifying people into categories (Rhodes et al., 2018). The key form of input that guides the development of categories is language. When a new word is learned it is not just linked to an object, instead the word is linked to a concept, this later allows children to link words to various objects that correspond with concepts (Keil, 2014). Categories are crucial for learning. They help infants organize what they are learning, but can also lead to negative outcomes. Social categorization can help when they are faced with complex social environments but it can also lead to stereotyping and discrimination (Rhodes et al., 2018). These social categories are formed through culture, it is culture that adds meaning to these categories (Rhodes et al., 2018). When considering the issue of sexism, the formation of categories plays a key role. Infants and children are rapidly learning new information and placing it into their categories. If kids from an early age learn that women and men have specific roles, they can build negative biases towards women. They can learn that certain activities only apply to women such as cleaning and cooking, and that others such as power and dominance apply to men.
Language follows nature via nurture development, they come prepared biologically and further their cognition via experiences. It is nature that sets the stage and nurtures the script (Kleinknecht, 2020). As our brain is developing so is language as previously explained. During brain development, the environment is also contributing. At birth there are auditory preferences that occur (Kleinknecht, 2020). For example, babies prefer their mother’s voice and high frequencies. As time goes on, auditory perceptions narrow based on experience. Between birth and 6 months, infants respond to all speech sounds, then between 10 and 12 months, they lose the ability to discriminate between non-native sounds (Kleinknecht, 2020). As mentioned earlier parents play a key role in development. They work together with their child to form connections. Therefore, culture and caregivers shape their beliefs. It is through what they hear that infants learn. It is important caregivers are shaping their child’s concepts in a gender positive manner with no biases that can lead to sexism.
Our belief systems develop hand in hand with our cognitive processes. It is dependent on how we are nurtured to process our environment because nature and nurture helps us define how we internalize external cues. In developmental psychology, there are two significant schools of thought that represent this argument. The empiricist argues that children need to interact with their environment to develop essential skills; meanwhile, nativists explain that babies have innate potential to develop multiple qualities.
Jean Piaget, a psychologist known for his work on development stages, believes that kids learn by their trial and error. Piaget is now categorized as an empiricist since his ideas explained that children improve their skills with practice. After observing that children of a close age range made similar mistakes in specific tests, he created his theory of cognitive development stages (Kleinknecht, 2020). These include the sensorimotor (birth to 2 years old), preoperational (2 to 7 years old), concrete operational (7 to 12 years old), and formal operational (12 years on) (Keil, 2014). Every stage has distinctive characteristics and hallmarks. For example, one of the most significant accomplishments of the preoperational stage is the development of language.
Piaget’s stage approach has been criticized since cognitive development occurs gradually and is not necessarily set in stone by a child’s age. He underestimated the sensorimotor and the preoperational potential to understand abstraction. Moreover, he overestimated formal operational development since we now know adolescents are still developing their pre-frontal lobe (Kleinknecht, 2020). Even though Piaget’s development stages have been criticized, part of his theories still hold significance in the psychological field. Piaget’s idea of schemas is also well accepted.
Schemas are knowledge blocks that organize new and old information, including environment interpretation, interaction with different objects, and behavior reactions (Keil, 2014). These cognitive short-cuts allow us to access information at a faster rate. Furthermore, Piaget introduced the idea of adaptation by which the kid can assimilate or accommodate their schemas. Assimilation occurs when a child understands an unfamiliar concept by relating it to a pre-existing scheme, such as seeing a four-leg small animal and calling them a dog (Keil, 2014). Accommodation happens when the child changes a scheme to adopt a new idea; for example, seeing a four-leg small animal and learning they are a cat instead of a dog (Keil, 2014).
The development of schemas contributes to the development of language and cognition. These qualities unfold as a child learns about their environment and their role in their community. Therefore, as children are exposed to their community in situations such as the playground, they understand what is expected from them, which varies with their gender. Starting from a young age, we treat children differently based on their gender, what we expect from them, and what we teach them. For example, it is usual to expect boys to play with cars and be adventurous; meanwhile, girls play with dolls and delegate activities that are within a household setting. The colors of a child’s room, toys, clothing, and many more artifacts also vary depending on their gender. These patterns develop further a sense of contrast between genders. After being exposed to these contrasts and different ideas expressed through language, children develop schemes of what each gender is and doesn’t depend on what they have learned.
Even though schemas help facilitate cognitive processing, they can also sustain biases. Schemas help us to focus on pre-existing information, making it difficult for us to accommodate new ideas. When it comes to sexism, schemas can increase confirmation bias, meaning that we unfamiliar information to confirm existing beliefs. After exposure to sexist ideas, such as women being not as good as men in the medical field, if someone hears about a female doctor making a mistake, they will incorporate it to confirm their belief.
Learning is a beautiful but dangerous process where the baby is absorbing so much information all at once. The process of absorption is important for cognition and development but it can also have a negative impact when the child is learning to place negative biases into their categories. These negative biases can be sexist ideas that place individuals into categories based on their gender, when gender does not define what a person can or cannot do. Learning occurs between parent and child interactions therefore parents and caregivers play a key role in what categories infants and children build. We therefore suggest that parents help children at an early age to build categories that stray away from sexist beliefs. It is important to not teach them that certain roles or activities only fit a certain gender, such as the idea that only women cook and clean and men are strong and do not cry. If we fight these biases from the beginning by preventing the formation of these ideas we can help children form non-sexist beliefs.
As children begin to make sense of the world around them by transforming their cognition with perception, language and experimenting with their environment, they establish their world-views. Children also look closely at the people around them to develop an idea about who they are among their environment. This piece will cover the concept of self, the attention invested to understand themselves and their environment. This piece will also cover how children process information in various forms of memory and will conclude with recommendations in how parents, caregivers and stakeholders can recognize these components to counter the implications of sexism.
Self-concept, the way a person perceives themselves, starts developing since birth. Neisser’s five senses of self describe how children develop their self-concept while exploring the world around them (Keil, 2014). It starts with the ecological self, the sense of where we are in the physical world. Then, we develop the interpersonal self, which is characterized by social interactions. The extended self is developed around age 4, and it included the understanding of an autobiographical timeline. During a similar time, we also acquire the private self. This involves understanding that our thoughts and experiences are unique and mostly unknown if we don’t communicate them. Finally, the conceptual self gives us the idea of who we are in our environment, the sense of which role we take in the world (Keil, 2014).
While developing a sense of self, we acquire gender identity. At birth, humans are recognized as female or male. This is known as biological sex, and it does not necessarily limit how you can express your gender. Whether you are biologically born as male or female, the sense of gender is given by societal norms. The culture around you describes how your gender identity is defined. A child develops their identity by behaving in a certain way based on their society’s expectations. Gender identity and gender roles are thought to progress together, which means that the perception of yourself and how you should behave in your society regarding your gender develop simultaneously (Keil, 2014). Gender identity is formulated based on exposure. If you define yourself as female, you may imitate behavior you see from a female figure.
Vygotsky first introduced the idea of culture influencing behavior. He believed that the environment we grow up in impacts the development of our cognition. He explained that the community helps you fill the knowledge gap by learning from a More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). An MKO is a mature member of society who takes the job of guiding you. They help to establish and maintain culture (Kleinknecht, 2020). This defines the expectation handset of rules needed to survive in the environment. They shape the way children recall their memories and how they react to them. Through the process of socialization, children create an idea of themselves by internalizing societal beliefs. This process helps us develop our gender identity and senses of self.
Through exposure to culture, humans get a sense of social cues of how to behave, but they also develop cognitive structures such as social essentialism. Social essentialism is the process by which humans create stereotypes and prejudice (Kleinknecht, 2020). It represents the essence each person has, but the culture is the one that gives meaning to that sense. It starts very early in life, and its purpose is to facilitate categorization. Categorization and organizing of schemes enable us to access information. However, this can increase biases, stereotypes, and prejudice. These processes can be characterized depending on in-group and out-group relationships. One tends to judge different people that are part of our inner group of friends. (Rhodes & Mandalaywala, 2017). By identifying ourselves, we start to understand our position in society. Moreover, when we can get a better sense of who we are, we are more likely to remember autobiographical memories (Fivush & Nelson, 2004).
Our mind and memory change with every experience, there is an aspect of every experience that leaves a trace in both our neural structures and our thoughts (Keil, 2014). Memory is the process of encoding, storing and retrieving. Encoding is the construction of knowledge and turning information into mentally useful representations (Keil, 2014). Storing is maintaining that information in our memories overtime, and retrieving is the process of looking back at past events or information and reconstructing experiences by reactivating neural patterns (Kleinknecht, 2020).
In order to form long term memories there are three steps. First as information comes in through the senses it is briefly registered in the sensory memory even when information is not consciously noticed (Keil, 2014). Next is the working memory which is also known as short term memory. Working memory is attending to and processing information from sensory memory (Keil, 2014). In this memory there is a capacity limit of 7 items plus or minus 2 and last only about 15 seconds before it is gone or processed into the long-term memory (Keil, 2014). Lastly there is long term memory. Long term memory has a vast capacity and these memories can last a long lifetime and can exist outside of awareness until it is brought up again (Keil, 2014).
The development of memory takes time. It begins as semantic memory which includes knowledge on facts about the world without exactly remembering where that information came from (Keil, 2014). With time episodic memory develops, once this is developed individuals are able to reflect on past experiences and tell others about it (Kleinknecht, 2020). It has been found that starting at 12 months of age infants can recreate sequences they have seen (Keil, 2014). Eventually, around age the age of 3 to 5 children can begin to develop autobiographical memory with the help of language and narratives.
Before the age of around 3 years old, there is almost no trace of any fully coherent memories (Fivush & Nelson, 2004). This is known as childhood amnesia where individuals recall fewer memories from before the age of three than expected by normal forgetting. It is a pause in memory where memories created preverbally and that are remembered without language may not be able to be translated into language (Fivush & Nelson, 2004). Researchers believe a reason behind childhood amnesia is that language needs to be present and developed in order to form these memories (Fivush & Nelson, 2004). Language plays a crucial role. It provides organization for personal experiences and allows children to enter into dialogues with others which helps them further organize (Fivush & Nelson, 2004).
Along with language, narratives and co-construction also play a crucial role in this development. Narrative serves as a mnemonic to help us remember (Kleinknecht, 2020). Parents who are detailed narrators when utilizing semantics and pragmatics about past experience tend to help their kids remember better (Tessler & Nelson, 1994). Through narratives parents help co-construct their child’s sense of self as they help with encoding and directing their knowledge (Kleinknecht, 2020). The brain sets the stage for these children who do not know to encode but their parents and life write their script and teach them how to encode information (Kleinknecht, 2020). Through these dialectics, parents help their children learn what is and is not important. It all begins with a simple conversation that turns into a script and results as a memory (Kleinknecht, 2020).
These parent interactions with their child helps sync up their biological system. Interacting about their past experiences helps the child internalize the incoming information (Tessler & Nelson, 1994), and it also helps them get a sense of who they are. The self is personalized through memory and family uniqueness (Kleinknecht, 2020). Individuals start up as a shared self who is informed of who they are by the narratives they are told, with time they are able to internalize this information with memory (Kleinknecht, 2020). Unfortunately, with co- occurring conversations biases can be formed and that is where sexism can be an issue. The narratives we are told about ourselves and others can result in social essentialism. Through an essentialist mindset, individuals can place others in psychological boxes. This can be very harmful especially when our sense of self is not just from the inside but from the outside as well and the narratives we are told. We can encode the wrong information of what makes a certain individual who they are and what their roles are based on their gender, resulting in negative categories.
Along with the memory system, another component crucial to how children learn is the system of Attention. The ability to utilize your senses in becoming aware and acknowledge the existence of the stimuli within the environment. Developing these skills are composed of several elements: cognitive flexibility to draw attention to stimuli, ability to recognize patterns of stimuli deploying working memory to aid information processing and regulation of how much attention to react to stimuli such as exercising inhibitory control (Keil, 2014). The last two mentioned are also a part of Executive Function which is also crucial in the development of attention. Without these elements, it could lead to being distracted and inability to focus on the test at hand.
Attention is built of three networks that help children draw attention to raise their awareness of stimuli. Orienting is the first of the attention networks. By early stages of development, regions of the brain allow an infant to use their sense to ‘orient’ themselves in their environment. Hearing a sound and using the eyes to understand their position or the sound’s position, gives rise to the attention drawn to the stimuli.
Alerting is the second of the attention networks. This network does not only rely on stimulating senses but also anticipation of cues (Keil, 2014). This anticipation of cues allows children to essentially develop a prediction on what will occur next in specific scenarios. This network is present in infancy and refined throughout the elementary grade school years (Keil, 2014). At this stage children can critically think and sort through the tasks that must (or not) occur. Leading into the next network, executive functioning.
Executive, is the third of the attention networks. This network is the foundation of how a child can develop a plan to problem solve (Diamond, 2009). In conjunction with working memory, inhibitory control, and error correcting. This network progressively develops during the elementary to middle school age (Keil, 2014). As the complexities of life unfold with age and the number of tasks increases, to properly balance or function there needs to a sense of control in how a child can juggle them. With executive function, children obtain skills in how to gauge their load and use strategies to prioritize their tasks or develop perceptions of handling circumstances.
Overall, these networks operate as filters. Filters applied to certain situations and occurrences to allow children to sift through intellectually how they want to process the information they received. In terms of how stakeholders can gain a better understanding of how children can better navigate challenging implications such as sexism are listed in the following. Stakeholders would benefit from knowing what is occuring in the environment of the child, along with knowing each process of each network. What sources are they receiving their information that engages their attention, what behaviors are exhibited when handling or coping with implications, and how do they use their executive function to counter or resolve their problems.
Nature and nurture play an interconnected role together in the development of all three, the self, memory, and attention. Biologically we come prepared for all three to develop but life and those around us shape what results. Parents and caregivers help shape the self through narratives. This narration also helps us develop autobiographical memory and helps us learn what needs our attention and what can be ignored. Therefore the stories that are told and what is taught plays a crucial role in development. That is why it is important to be aware of any biases that are being taught. From an early age, kids begin forming categories and are in risk of essentialist beliefs. Parents and caregivers should be aware of the conversations they have with their kids and be aware of any sexist views. From the beginning children should be taught that roles fit anyone, not just a specific gender.
About the Authors
Maria Hands Ruz (she/her/hers). She is an international student from Venezuela majoring in Psychology. She intends to work with minority groups such as immigrants and women.
Karla Cupa-Barron. I am currently a senior at Pacific University Majoring in Psychology. I am very passionate about child development and plan to go into Pediatric Speech Language Pathology. This project has been very interesting and I have definitely enjoyed learning about how to help improve the issue with isms from early on.
Rouxbee Vang is a student at Pacific University majoring in Cultural Psychology and pursuing a career in Medicine.
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