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versión On-line ISSN 1668-7027


RUIZ-DANEGGER, Constanza. Debates on modularity in Developmental Pychology: To a new constructivism?. Interdisciplinaria [online]. 2009, vol.26, n.2, pp.247-265. ISSN 1668-7027.

This work communicates some discussions on modularity and its implications in Developmental Psychology, particularly applied to the understanding of cognitive development. First, we review some reasons for the emergence and expansion of a modular hegemony within the Developmental Cognitive Psychology the last two decades. We examine both assumptions about the mental architecture arising from the theoretical work of Fodor (1983 / 1986), as well as empirical research that indicates the existence of innate structures and contents in babies. While reviewing critically various modular models, we consider such hegemony and open lines of the debate. Progress of the modularity has led in different directions and disciplines within the cognitive sciences. On the one hand, much of the psychological research was conducted to search for modules, going against the general domain paradigm of long tradition. Theorizing was a dramatic turnaround beyond Fodor, assuming the hypothesis of massive modularity, which maintains the mind consists essentially (or may be completely) by innate modules for specific purposes. Modularity also appears as encouragement of investigations in the field of Neurobiology, working steadily on pathological cases such as double dissociations or atypical development (vg. Williams Syndrome). There are also positions of soft modularity, like the assumption of modularization of Karmiloff-Smith -which seems to have marked a turning point in the dynamics of theorizing and experimentation on the subject in question. Contributions from the paradigm of modularity led to estimate the differences between baby's consideration as a blank slate without any previous knowledge- the Piagetian and behaviorist babies, and a new nativist baby, initially much more powerful. For the standard constructivism, mind development occurs by general changes that affect the general structures of representation for all domains, and that operate on all aspects of cognitive system similarly, from a few processes biologically determined and functional processes as invariant. For the nativist / modular thesis, the baby is much better equipped from this starting, and is programmed to understand specific sources of information; their further development will be restricted by the specific innately modules established for each domain. To explain cognitive development would involve a difficult balance: while there are more specific domain properties in the baby's mind, less creative and flexible will be their cognitive system. Neuroscience of development and recent experiments with babies, provide elements to try reconciliation between their explanation of the constructivist legacy and the new findings about the innate background of the babies. The evolutionary specialization of human beings would be characterized precisely by a relative lack of expertise at birth, and a very lengthy development during which our brains learn and configure out. So, it would be possible to stay (or return) to constructivist positions, without abandoning the notion that there is something innate -although not necessarily coincident with the Fodor's view. This approach is borrowing heavily from the idea of modularization of Karmiloff-Smith (1992 / 1994). She proposed that the domain expertise and modularity (re-defined) may well be understood as the natural product of the process of development. According to this author, modularization is the result of a process of representational redescription, a phased-development mechanism, able to give an account of the genesis of flexibility and variety of human cognition. Perhaps the challenge will be continuing with the debate in order to figure out the core features of a renewed constructivism, within or beyond the Fodorian modularity, but also of Piaget and computational paradigm, that considers modularistic contributions, and it is compatible with psychological and neurobiological theories. As a result, probably the same role of Developmental Psychology in this debate will lead to redefine the scope of this discipline, transcending (but not abandon) its computational framework.

Palabras clave : Modularity; Constructivism; Nativism; Cognitive development.

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