viernes, 6 de octubre de 2017

Chimps, progressive linear assumptions and insight processes

Ten years ago I included this question in the final task of the subject "Developmental Psychology of Infanthood and Adolescence", that  I lectured  in the first year of Psychopedagogy Degree.

"There is a famous experiment of the Gestal Psychology (conceived by Wolfgang Köhler) where a chimp had to figure out how to grasp some bananas hanging from the ceiling. The chimp finally could solve the problem connecting several items or tools it had at his disposal. In the example the cages. In other examples there were cages and a stick that could be connected. What similarity you find between the task of the chimp and the demands of this subject? what are your "bananas?"

One of the processes explored by Köhler was how takes place what we call an insight (concept coined by another gestalt psychologist Karl Bühler): a special understanding usually of cause and effects based on the identification of relationships within a specific context.

My purpose with this question, quite funny for me, was to check if my students could realize how most of our activities were organized as an attempt to construct progressively different levels of meaning. And this meaning construction process depended on their competence relating different kind of information.

I am mentioning this because last Tuesday I could witness an interesting insight in my current class of Developmental Psychology. My students had been elaborating a conceptual map to synthesize their understanding of the concept of "development".  In order to do this they had to integrate a video of Svend Brinkman with their previous conclusions after analyzing their own personal drawings to express what meant development for them. So they knew, suppossedly, several implicit assumptions on development and also had a lot of ideas coming from the talk of Brinkmann. The task demanded connecting both sources of information.

And that was not easy at all. First create a conceptual map individually. Then create a groupal conceptual map. Then choose a group spokesman to discuss your undestanding with other three spokesmen coming from the other three groups.

This kind of discussion takes time to get results. At first the four speakers were providing their reports instead of being engaged in a living conversation. And they were pointing useful and interesting information although disconnected. For example a speaker could say that the lecture of Brinkmann critizes  the idea of constant development. Against this idea of constant improvement which leads us to blaming ourselves when we fail or when we do not fulfill our standards, he defends to stand firms, not changing at all.

It was difficult to go beyond the first reports.  I asked them what was the relationship between their new distinctions about development (linear, progressive, decaying, with an end, without an end, cyclical, individual, social-contextualized) and Brinkmann's own conception of development. Around minute 39' 03'' to 40' 01'' a student provided the following statement:

" we are always thinking about development as if it is always going up and up... everything is good, and that is not true, we have to be realistics, (..)  lives give ups and downs and is connected with our drawings because  most of us use to represent development as a straight line going up and up and up, and that's not true, this is one of the ideas, of course there is more".

For me this argument is a really good example of insight. First of all it comes after listening her classmates but providing something new. It is more complex because she was identifying a key idea of Brinkmann in terms of the previous discussion with the drawings. And then something new comes up. Our most common way of representing development is linear and progressive, something that Brinkmann is taking for granted as well.

And that's not necessarily the case: development is above all dynamic, it fluctuates. In addition to this a linear representation (progressive or not) stresses a continuous, variational and quantitative notion of change, instead of a qualitative, transformational and discontinuous notion of change. So Development is not just a matter a change in quantity of something (to be smarter, to be wiser, to be more experienced) it is along with continuous change a matter of qualitative change (being smart, wise and experience in a different way, usually implying a more complex way of organization). Ideas A, B and C can have the same kind of complexity. But an idea D as the one expressed by the student I referred above, comes from the previous combination, integration of A, B and C, and it is qualitatively different.

That's part of our taks in the subjetc: practicing  to think for ourselves in order to get a different way of managing information, of even getting a new quality of information, not just an accumulation of facts. Paying attention not only to content (and quantity of content) but also to what kind of processes we can practice to manage and organize that content.

So what a good start, don't you think?

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