Summary: Mechanisms of Cognitive Development: Domain-General
Learning or Domain-Specific Constraints?
Vladimir M. Sloutsky
Center for Cognitive Science, The Ohio State University
The issue of how people acquire knowledge in the course of individual development has
fascinated researchers for thousands of years. Perhaps the earliest recorded effort to put
forth a theoretical account belongs to Plato, who famously advocated the idea that knowl-
edge of many abstract categories (e.g., ``equivalence'') is innate. Although Plato argued
with his contemporaries who advocated the empirical basis of knowledge, it was the British
empiricists who most forcefully put forth the idea of the empirical basis of knowledge, with
John Locke offering the famous ``tabula rasa'' argument.
The first comprehensive psychological treatment of the problem of knowledge acquisition
was offered by Piaget (1954), who suggested that knowledge emerges as a result of inter-
actions between individuals and their environments. This was a radical departure from both
extreme nativism and extreme empiricism. However, these ideas, as well those of empiri-
cist-minded behaviorists, fell short of providing a viable account of many human abilities,
most notably, language acquisition.
This inability prompted Chomsky to propose an argument that language cannot be
acquired from the available linguistic input because it does not contain enough information
to enable the learner to recover a particular grammar, while ruling out alternatives (Chom-