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Tutor profile: Holly B.

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Holly B.
UCL PhD graduate and experienced tutor for 9 years
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Questions

Subject: Psychology

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Question:

What are the ethical implications of using animals in Cognitive Psychology: Can science exist without suffering?

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Holly B.
Answer:

Human and non-human primates share many physiological characteristics such as the neural architecture of the brain and strikingly similar DNA; for example bonobos and chimps are more similar to humans than they are to each other (Prüfer et al., 2012). They also share social characteristics such as emotional attachment and the need to belong to a community. Thus although testing on primates can offer us invaluable knowledge regarding human cognition because we are so alike, to some extent this is extremely unethical as they are, like us, highly sensitive and intelligent beings. It is also important to consider that emotionally traumatised animals will most likely provide skewed results and thus inconclusive results. Over time, opinions towards animal rights have been mixed. Reagan’s (1983) book The Case for Animal Rights was a highly significant text regarding animal rights theory. In this, it was argued that animals must have moral rights because they are all ‘subjects of life’ and possess complex mental functions such as perception and memory. In other words, all animals have an intrinsic value and should be treated with the same respect as humans; we are all beings that care about our own lives and have a desideratum to survive. This is a deontological perspective; in Reagan’s point of view humans have an obligation to protect animals. However, not everyone holds this opinion to be true. Carruthers (1992) claimed that animals have no rights. Although they possess a number of simplistic mental states such as desire and grief, they lack the complexity to think about their own thinking and so are not rational agents. Thus, they have no moral standing and we as humans have no obligation to treat animals like other humans or respect their ‘non-existent rights’. Carruthers (1992) does not deny that animals matter; he just suggests that something mattering is not the same as something having morals. For example, fine art and ancient architecture matter to us as a human population but they are not morally valuable. This is associated with the ethical model of contract theory. Contract theory is the idea that moral obligations are based upon an imaginary social contract that forms the society in which we live (Locke, 1689). Carruthers (1992) would argue that only beings with rational thought can participate in such a ‘contract’ and thus because animals do not possess rationality we do not have any moral obligations towards them. However, it can be argued that all animals within a species are in a contract with each other as they live together harmoniously, so to some extent they do participate in a moral contract which arguably affects their status of morality.

Subject: Linguistics

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Question:

How does bilingualism affect attention and speech processing in infancy?

Inactive
Holly B.
Answer:

Evidence exists to suggest that bilingual and monolingual attention differs. It is difficult to define an infant as a bilingual or not, as they cannot yet speak. However in this thesis we define a bilingual as an infant or child that receives 25% or more of their daily exposure to two (or more) languages. It has been found that children who receive less than 25% of daily language exposure to a second language do not become proficient in the second language (Pearson, Fernández, Lewedeg, & Oller, 1997), and this is why we have chosen this criterion. More recent research has identified the difficulty regarding measuring bilingualism in young children and has provided suggestions for measuring and reporting a child’s language exposure and proficiency (Byers-Heinlein et al., 2019). Researchers should conduct detailed interviews with a child’s caregiver in order to understand sufficient information about the child’s language exposure and capabilities e.g. MAPLE: A Multilingual Approach to Parent Language Estimates (Byers-Heinlein et al., 2020). This will allow participants to be accurately classified into monolingual and bilingual groups. In this thesis, detailed questionnaires regarding infant language exposure were administered to parents and caregivers in order to obtain a fully detailed and coherent picture of the infant’s language experience. The Bilingual Interaction Activation model (BIA) (Dijkstra & van Heuven, 2002) posits that bilingualism improves attentional control by enhancing the ability to inhibit unnecessary information, bilinguals must engage in this frequently in order to avoid cross-language interference. In the bilingual brain it is thought that both languages are simultaneously active and that the bilingual must choose when to supress one language and use the other. This constant state of inhibiting the unwanted language(s) is thought to heighten attentional control. It is argued that bilingual toddlers show a greater attention to speech than their monolingual peers (Kuipers & Thierry, 2015). Kuipers & Thierry (2015) measured ERPs to spoken words preceded by pictures in monolingual and bilingual toddlers. Words that matched the images elicited early frontal positivity in the bilingual children showing that bilingualism may positively affect overall attention during speech perception. It has been found that bilingual infants have an enhanced cognitive control system. It has been found that pre-verbal infants have displayed improved cognitive control abilities compared with monolinguals (Kovács & Mehler, 2009). In 3 different eye tracking studies it was found that 7 month old monolinguals and bilinguals were both able to respond to an auditory or visual cue in anticipation of an on-screen reward. However, only infants who had experienced two different languages from birth were able to redirect their anticipatory looks when the cue began signalling a reward on the opposite side of the screen. This illustrates that an exposure to two languages from birth has an improvement on domain-general cognitive control in young infants. Additionally, bilingual infants are able to switch their attention more frequently than monolinguals and this presents them with advantaged executive functioning skills (D’Souza, Brady, Haensel, & D’Souza, 2020). In this study, both bilingual and monolingual infants aged between 7 – 9 months of age participated in four gaze-contingent eye-tracking studies. They failed to replicate the exact results of the previous study (Kovács & Mehler, 2009). However, they did find that the bilingual infants were able to disengage attention from one stimulus more quickly than monolinguals in order to focus on another stimulus. Consequently, bilingualism seems to be modulating pre-verbal infant attentional processes in the first year of life. On the other hand, a more recent study (Kalashnikova, Pejovic, & Carreiras, 2021) failed to find a specific advantage in bilingual attentional control in seven month old infants. However, it was found that bilingual infants showed uniquely different patterns in their allocation of attention in compared to monolinguals. This illustrates that the encoding of two or more languages from birth in the first year of life has a significant effect with regards to their attentional processing.

Subject: English

TutorMe
Question:

What happens in the first year of life with regards to speech processing?

Inactive
Holly B.
Answer:

Most infants are seemingly able to acquire language effortlessly and rapidly and it is thought that infants begin to process speech from as early as in the womb (Moon, Lagercrantz, & Kuhl, 2013); speech perception begins from the earliest of developmental stages. Infants are able to pay attention to the sounds that they hear through the amniotic fluid (DeCasper & Fifer, 1980) and before they perceive streams of sound as language they are intuitively attentive to the patterns of sounds produced when people talk. Neonates are able to respond differently to native/non-native vowels from birth; the ambient language that a foetus is exposed to is already shaping their perception of speech. New-born infants are able to show a preference for the language that they were exposed to prenatally (Mehler et al., 1988) and show a sensitivity to statistical probabilities in strings of speech sounds (Saffran, Aslin and Newport, 1996). Once an infant is born, the first year of life is absolutely crucial in their ability to acquire language and many major developmental milestones, both linguistic and cognitive, are reached within this period. Infants are immediately able to discriminate between a universal set of phonetic contrasts (Werker, Gilbert, Humphrey, & Tees, 1981). However, this ability declines at 10-12 months when babies become more ‘perceptually tuned’ to their native language (Kuhl et al., 2008). Similarly, at 9 months of age infants are able to distinguish between words that comply with, or violate, the phonetic and phonotactic rules of their native language (Jusczyk, Friederici, Wessels, Svenkerud, & Jusczyk, 1993). Thus, it can be assumed that by the end of the first year of life, infant non-native speech perception seems to have declined while their native language speech perception skills are showing improvement. This is a fundamental step in order for them to become masters of their native language.

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