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innatism in psychology, what is it about?

Are ideas born with us or are they a consequence of our experiences? Innatism argues how we are born with ideas, which are refined and refined through the experiences we have.


What is Innatism?


The term innatism refers to the theory of knowledge, or gnoseological theory, according to which individuals are endowed from birth with knowledge, notions and concepts, pre-existing all experience, as well as the presence in the mind of a method with already defined rules of knowledge.


In the West, this principle developed within different disciplines or knowledge such as:


  • philosophy with Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Spencer. To mention the most famous

  • linguistics with Noam Chomsky

  • anthropology with Claude Levi-Strauss

  • ethology with Konrad Lorenz

  • the psychology of cognitive development with Piaget, Vygostsky or Jerome Bruner.


Common goal: to find the foundations of cognitive processes and human functioning.

Who was the theoretician of the Innatist model?


In Western philosophy, one can point to Plato as the first innatist. According to his thought,

knowledge derives from a process of reminiscence, or anamnesis.

From reminiscence, through perception, one can trace the forms and mathematical patterns that shaped the sensible world. These forms are found in the hyperuranium, and were contemplated by souls before birth.


What are the contents of this current of thought in philosophy?


The contents or fundamentals of hymnatism do not vary much in their basic idea or core over the centuries. Two examples:


René Descartes stated that 'thinking is thought, and substance is the thinking nature'. There are thoughts that are produced by imaginative activity and come from outside, but there are also ideas that are not formed by the individual, and are proper to the thinking substance that possesses innate ideas

Gottfried Wilhelm Von Leibniz wrote that the human mind at birth is like 'a block of marble', in which the veins give a glimpse of the shape of the statue that will later be sculpted, since all ideas are present in the mind but not all of them in a conscious, clear and distinct way.


Why do Locke and the empiricists criticise innatism?


Empiricism is a philosophy, born in England in the second half of the 17th century, according to which human knowledge is determined exclusively by the senses and experience.


John Locke, a British philosopher and physician, strongly criticised Innatist thought, and was based on the conviction that there is no principle in morality, as in science, that can be held to be absolutely valid such that it escapes all subsequent scrutiny by experience.


At the moment of birth, the human being's mind is devoid of structure and information, but soon, and only through experience, identity and knowledge are born.

Innatism in psychology


When one speaks of hymnology in the field of psychology, one almost automatically speaks of psychological development and cognitive development, which refer to the changes that occur in an individual's human behaviour, abilities and personality from birth until death.


Development theory seeks to answer three questions, which are:


when, meaning the continuous process of changes, characteristic of childhood, with the aim of creating and classifying cognitive, motor, creative, emotional, linguistic skills and abilities, in the different age groups

how, it means how the child relates to and comes into contact with the outside world

because it concerns the explanation of development and thus seeks to understand its causes. It therefore explains the processes underlying each competence, distinguishing between genetic factors and the external environment.


The theory of cognitive development according to Jerome Seymour Bruner


A special place must certainly be given to Jerome Bruner. In his studies, he dealt with Cognitive and Cultural Psychology as well as Educational Psychology. He studied the means by which human beings, during their growth, represent their experience of the world and how they organise what they have encountered and learned.


According to Bruner, development occurs through an information processing system that is initially a poor system, which then becomes a powerful system. Knowledge of the world and of oneself occurs through three forms of representation, encompassing the period from birth to adolescence.



The three forms of representation


These phases are divided into defined representations:


  • operational, in which the world is known through actions. It is developed during the first year of life and put into action whenever an individual has to learn through action to do something

  • iconic, when the world is represented through a coding system, determined by visual, olfactory, auditory, gustatory and tactile images. It is present in children up to the age of 7. The image mediated by the senses, allows one to mentally evoke a reality, an experience that is not present and use it

  • symbolic, in which knowledge of the world occurs through a coding system made up only of symbols and conventional signs, such as numerical and musical systems. It appears around the age of 8 and continues until death.


The choice of a representation is determined by three factors: individual evolution, the environment in which the subject grows up and the culture to which it belongs.


What is the nature of the mind according to Bruner?


According to Bruner, intelligence is a set of strategies and procedures for solving problems, making decisions and analysing information. The cognitive tools of intelligence are called coding systems, i.e. the different ways of processing information.


Coding systems are the result of experience, vary and develop through evolution, which consists of the gradual transition of systems that


  • process little information at a time and then become systems that process a lot of information

  • are linked to concrete content and evolve into systems that are not linked to concrete content

  • are isolated and then become hierarchically co-ordinated systems.


The two cognitive modes of the human being, in integration and completion, are analytical, logical-discursive thinking, in the left hemisphere, and intuitive or symbolic thinking, called analogical, in the right hemisphere. The two brain areas must integrate, sometimes favouring one over the other, but they cannot be expected to operate alone.


The concept of the model for Bruner between hymnology and evolution


Bruner introduces the concept of the model, i.e. the personal factors of the subject at the time of learning, and at the same time the reference system with which human beings are endowed, the innate and common heritage.


These foundations are to be found in certain ideas:


  • cause and effect, which allow the connection between data

  • identity, which founds the possibility of recognition through perception

  • hierarchy, which allows an ordering between different classes

  • structural modes, relating to language. They can also be called linguistic universals.


Ideas develop according to the culture in which the subject is immersed, and then go through a process of adaptation in relation to the individual's use of them. Patterns can evolve and transform according to the uses that society and culture require.


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