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Cognitive Processes: Perception, Attention, Memory

Introduction

Cognitive development entails the development of different processes such as learning, perception, memory, and attention, which allow human beings to gain knowledge and understand their surroundings. As a result, these cognitive processes serve different purposes in the human lifespan developmental stages and cognition in particular. For instance, memory is a fundamental cognitive process, which is functional as early as when the infant is in the womb.

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Over the years, research shows that memory allows human beings to store information for later usage. Memory can either be long-term or short-term whereby the former allows one to store information for longer periods while the latter allows information storage over short periods. Memory can also be declarative or procedural whereby declarative memory refers to the memory for specific knowledge, experiences, facts or meanings while procedural memory refers to the memory for remembering actions and motor series (Goswami, 1997, pp. 1-6).

On the other hand, perception refers to the ability to receive information using visual and auditory senses and processing it in many ways. Therefore, perceiving entails the construction of mental representations of the sensory inputs. Accordingly, perception allows human beings to stay in contact with their surrounding environment. As in the case of memory, research has also shown that visual and auditory perceptual skills and abilities are present in babies.

This cognitive process allows babies to organize their surroundings into a system of objects and relationships (Goswami, 1997, p.9). Conversely, attention is another fundamental cognitive process that allows one to attend to one specific environmental aspect while disregarding others. Research has also documented the development of adequate attention mechanisms in babies. Here, attention has been shown to allow babies to organize their behaviors relative to various perceptual events through developing expectations for predictable events (Goswami, 1997, pp. 9-10).

Therefore, it is no doubt that cognition and cognitive processes have received extensive research in psychology and other disciplines. In this paper, various research methodologies underlying the cognitive processes of memory, perception, and attention are summarized and evaluated relative to their adequacy and relevance in measuring the processes.

A summary of Articles

Perception

Object-context relations have been shown to play a major role in perception and cognition. Here, research studies note that perception of objects, and thus, their cognition takes place in various contexts, that is, the internal and external environmental aspects, which can influence object information processing. Therefore, the context includes the stimulations under which the object is entrenched, and thus, the context may determine the way one will sense or remember the object (Bornstein, Mash, & Arterberry, 2011, p. 364).

Furthermore, the physiological influence of the context has been studied, and it has been shown that when people look at an object embedded in a fearful context, the neural amplitude related to the object information processing mechanism is enhanced significantly. As a result, the context influences the way information is encoded in the neural system (Bornstein et al., 2011, p. 364).

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Accordingly, Bornstein and his colleagues attempted to study the influence of object-context relations on the development of perceptions in adults and infants through the analysis of eye movements. In their experiment, Bornstein and his colleagues used a common eye-movement model to investigate attention to object-context relations among 24 infants (four months old) and 22 adults (20 years old).

Here, the participants were treated to 36 full-color digitized images of animals and vehicles categorized into congruent object-context and non-congruent object-context sets. Subsequently, the researchers tracked the participants’ eye-movements using the 504 eye-tracking system developed by the Applied Science Laboratories (ASL). The researchers found out that infants demonstrated equal preferences for animals and vehicles in both congruent and incongruent object-context relations while adults preferred congruent scenes more than incongruent scenes. Overall, the researchers concluded that object-context relations play a major role in the development of perceptions and allocation of attention to objects (Bornstein et al., 2011).

The methodology employed by the researchers in this study is appropriate and sufficient in answering the research question. Furthermore, the sample size was relatively large to eliminate the type-2 error. Moreover, the researchers managed to design their research methodology using the validity and reliability data from previous studies to ensure that their study reflects and builds upon what is already known.

Besides, the methodology allows for the control of confounding factors such as the socioeconomic status of the participants by including subjects from the middle and high classes. However, the methodology is not sufficient enough to account for the complex relationship between the eye and mind considering that what someone is looking at may not necessarily correspond to what that individual is mentally processing. Furthermore, the methodology cannot account for the influence of infant expectations for predictable events in object-context relations. Therefore, future studies should seek to address the same questions from the latter perspectives as well as improving on the current study.

Attention

As noted earlier, attention mechanisms develop early in life. Hence, visual attention in infants has been studied, and it has been noted that visual attention underlies the development of various cognitive processes including visual recognition memory (Reynolds, Courage & Richards, 2010, p. 886). Furthermore, different procedures have been used to measure visual recognition memory such as the paired comparison procedure, which is used to measure the infants’ look duration to new and known stimuli.

Here, research shows that visual attention to stimuli can be used to measure encoding, storage, and retrieval of information in children. However, Reynolds and his colleagues propose an improved method for establishing the relationship between the behavioral measures and event-related potentials (ERP) related to visual attention in infants and their recognition memory. ERPs are referred to as voltage oscillations measured as the electroencephalographic (EEG) data relative to time-locked events (perceptual or cognitive).

Hence, ERPs can be used to determine different waveform components (the Negative central, Nc) related to different stages of a particular event such as stimulus orienting or stimulus encoding. Furthermore, in their study, Reynolds and his colleagues attempted to measure ERPs in infants through the paired comparison trials. Besides, the experiment was designed in such a way that allowed the establishment of the exact cortical sources of preferences associated with infant visual attention and recognition memory (Reynolds et al., 2010, p. 887).

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To achieve their goals, the researchers designed a developmental study to measure attention and recognition memory by comparing infant preferential-looking and ERP responses concurrently. The EEG/ERP model was used on 47 infants (4.5 months old) in a cross-sectional study involving five experimental phases. Computer-generated visual patterns were used as stimuli while Sesame street characters were used for fixation and maintenance of the infants’ attention.

Overall, the researchers found out that infants who showed new preferences for the stimuli in the paired comparison trials did demonstrate Negative central ERP components with greater amplitudes compared to their counterparts who did not show new preferences across tasks. Moreover, infant visual preferences were directly influenced by the type of stimulus and the infant’s attention. Finally, both the prefrontal (inferior and superior) and anterior cingulated cortices were linked to the infant visual preferences as their main cortical sources (Reynolds et al., 2010, pp. 888-898).

The EEG/ERP techniques utilized in this study are sufficient in determining the brain-behavior relations, which influence visual attention and recognition memory among infants. The approach used by the researchers in designing their study methodology is relevant because they employ validity and reliability data from previous studies to validate their study. Therefore, the methodology has different strengths such as its ability to allow the researchers to measure brain activity during the participant’s engagement in attention and recognition tasks.

Besides, the technique allows for cortical source analyses in order to identify the brain sections involved in processing attention and recognition information. However, the methodology fails to accommodate the measures for individual differences related to the infants’ responsiveness to the stimuli, and thus, it is notable that other infants may demonstrate overall non-preference. Moreover, this study is unique in that it attempts to relate behavior to brain functions, and thus, the reliability of its methodology cannot be determined until the study has been replicated.

Memory

As noted earlier, there are different kinds and types of memory mechanisms appearing at different stages in the lifespan development process. Among these varieties is the working memory, which has been shown to play a major role in the development of mathematical and word problem-solving abilities in children (Swamson, 2011, p. 821). Furthermore, the individual differences in the accuracy of solving word problems have been linked to the working memory (WM).

Here, the working memory is taken to represent a processing resource with limited capacity because it is involved in the preservation of information while processing it or other information. Therefore, considering that the process of solving mathematical word problems entails text comprehension and computation, the WM plays an important role in maintaining solution accuracy (Swamson, 2011, p. 821). Hence, proficiency of the WM is required in the process of understanding propositions, words, sentences, phrases, and the interpretation of word problems.

In order to study the WM proficiency, Swanson ran various tests on 127 children in Grade 1 in a longitudinal study. These tests were aimed at assessing different parameters and abilities including problem-solving, cognitive processing, and working memory. A follow-up was also done on the children in Grade 2 and 3 using similar tests. In the long run, the researcher found out that different predictors such as WM and naming speed observed in Grade 1 contributed to variations in the children’s performance in word problem-solving in Grade 3.

Furthermore, the growth of executive WM was directly related to proficiency in word problem-solving. As a result, the researcher concluded that the experimental results supported the widely accepted idea that executive WM is a predictor of the children’s growth in problem-solving compared to other possibilities such as inattention, knowledge base, and phonological processes (Swamson, 2011, pp. 824-834).

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Considering the type of research questions that the study seeks to answer, the research methodology employed in this case is sufficient enough to produce reliable evidence. However, the methodology fails to include oral language as one of the possibilities contributing to proficiency in word problem-solving against the growth in the executive WM. Moreover, the methodology does not allow the researcher to account for the Mathew effects in that the gap between the children who score highly in the tests compared to those who score lowly in Grade 1 may increase across the grades.

Another problem with the methodology is that the word problems were presented to the participants orally while in the classroom setting, the children are supposed to read for themselves. This effect may influence the performance of the participants in different ways. On the other hand, the presentation mode allowed the researcher to control for the reading confounds. Therefore, besides putting the above-mentioned considerations into perspective, future studies should seek to determine the effect of WM training on academic outcomes.

References

Bornstein, M.H., Mash, C., & Arterberry, M.E. (2011). Perceptions of object-context relations: Eye-movement analyses in infants and adults. Developmental Psychology, 47(2), 364-375.

Goswami, U. (1997). Cognition in children. East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press Ltd, Publishers.

Reynolds, G.D., Courage, M.L., & Richards, J.E. (2010). Infant Attention and Visual Preferences: Converging evidence from behavior, event-related potentials, and cortical source localization. Developmental Psychology, 46(4), 886-904.

Swamson, L.H. (2011). Working Memory, Attention, and Mathematical Problem-Solving: A longitudinal study of elementary school children. Journal of educational Psychology, 103 (4), 821-837.

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