Languages may differ from each other in many ways but there are certain aspects that appear to be shared across languages. These aspects might stem from linguistic principles that are active in all human brains. A natural question then arises: are infants born with the knowledge of how human words might sound like? Iris Berent, a Psychology professor at the Northeastern University is studying how humans pick up something as complex as language.
However, people have a hard time believing that language intuition can be there from birth. Berent was stumped as to why people wouldn’t entertain the idea of knowledge from birth. However, it wasn’t their fault. In a new study, Berent and her co-authors show that people are biased against accepting that knowledge can be inborn. They conducted eight experiments. In one of them, they asked participants to think about what it’d be like to grow up on a deserted island. In another experiment, they asked participants which traits might spontaneously appear in birds, yet in another, they asked the same question about aliens. People were more likely to reason that the only traits that would appear would be motor skills and emotions, even when the researchers made reference to real-world experiments that showed the contrary.
“People are actually biased. Something is very wrong in how we reason about our own human nature”, says Berent. Here is her theory about the specific ideas might be causing the problem.
One of the principles that help us make sense of the world, is believing that the “essence” of an object is at its core and is tangible. According to researches, children assert that a brown dog’s offspring is also brown because a tiny piece of matter transfers from the former to the latter. This suggests that kids have a grasp of inheritance even before they’re taught. However, imagining inheritance as a physical process competes with another principle: thinking of the mind and body as separate. When we think of inheritance as physical, while also thinking of the mind as its own, free-floating, immaterial entity, it seems illogical to us that we could physically inherit something that manifests in the mind. Berent is yet to confirm the exact reason for this bias. However, a bias exists at all was, at first, only a hunch.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman