Author Archives: Stacey Dian Brantley

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR WUG TEST TODAY?

By Stacey Brantley

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In 1958, Jean Berko Gleason published ‘The Wug Test’, a landmark study that is considered to have laid the foundation for the modern study of linguistics.  The test was used to determine whether children between the ages of four and seven could extend the rules of English morphology on their own by adding morphemes to make nouns plural, make verbs past tense or nouns possessive.  By using imaginary animals and nonsense words that Gleason herself created, she has been able to demonstrate that children have a tacit understanding of language and are able to produce words they have never heard before and therefore could not have memorized.

How the basic Wug Test is conducted:

Children are shown the picture card reproduced above.  The experimenter points to the picture and reads the text.  The child should supply the missing word.

Following the publication of the study, there were those who claimed that the results proved Noam Chomsky’s theory that human language is coded in the genes and that we are genetically programmed to acquire and use language. Connectionists and linguists disagreed and attempted to find other explanations for interpreting the results, such as exposure, appropriate examples, higher order rules (abstractions and algorithms) and analogies.

Gleason puts herself somewhere in the middle of the two camps terming herself an Interactionist.  She believes that we are born with a certain capacity for language but that ultimately language is acquired through interaction with other people talking to us.  In a 2011 interview with ETJ Journal, she stated, “You can also view the Wug test results as evidence that children have the ability to abstract and generalize as part of their all purpose cognitive armamentarium, or you can think that the results are more evidence that language is a separate faculty, because what children are doing linguistically seems so much more sophisticated than their other cognitive attainments.”

Five decades later, the Wug Test is still a standard in children’s linguistic testing and Gleason, who is Professor Emerita of Psychology at Boston University, continues her research into language acquisition.  She has also done work on aphasia, with focus on lexical retrieval.

If you would like to listen to an interview with Jean Berko Gleason or take The Wug Test yourself  click here.

WORKS CITED:

Berko Gleason, Ph.D., Jean. Home page. N.p., Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

Berko, J. (1958). The child’s learning of English morphology. Word, 14, 150-177. Extracted from Carnegie Mellon University childes.psy.cmu.edu/topics/ Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

Harkins, Dan. “What is The Wug Test.” Wisegeek.com. Conjecture Corporation.16 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

“Jean Berko Gleason – Unfolding Language, Unfolding Life.” Narr. Krista Tippett. On Being. American Public Media, 3 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

Love, Jessica. “What Toddlers Know They Don’t Know About Plurals.” The American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa. N.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Murphy, Robert, S. “The Wug Test and Major Developments Since Then: The Jean Berko Gleason Interview.” ETJ Journal. Vol. 9. Issue 1. ISSN: 1883-0099. (2001). N.pag. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

DR. MAJID FOTUHI AND GROWING THE HIPPOCAMPUS

 

Dr. Majid Fotuhi, M.D, Ph.D. is considered one of the nations leading experts on memory loss and dementia.  He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and continues to teach at both universities.  Dr. Fotuhi also heads the clinical and scientific programs at NeurExpand Brain Center, formerly the Neurology Institute.  According the center’s website, his recent research on the effects of aging and the brain has shown that “baby-boomers can in fact increase the size of their hippocampus, the part of the brain that is critical for short-term memory and can bolster other parts of the brain as well.”

CNN.com reports that after the age of 50, the brain begins to lose some of its volume with the hippocampus losing 1% every two years and accelerating up to 2% later in life.  However, according to Dr. Fotuhi, due to the plasticity of the hippocampus this process can be not only be prevented but reversed with some very simple preventative steps.

The doctor recommends 1) vigorous physical exercise – the type that gets you “huffing and puffing”.  Fotuhi sees dancing as the perfect activity for keeping the brain young, citing the combination of physical activity, social interaction & the mental challenge of remembering the steps.  2) Cognitive stimulation – memorize long lists or calculate your grocery bill in your head as you shop. 3) Supplements – DHA, 600mg/day.  Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain.  Low levels of DHA have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Research has found correlation between the hippocampus size and the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease and Dr. Fothui and his colleagues believe that these simple lifestyle choices beginning even at middle age are the key to growing this vital brain area.   In fact, it is the only part of the brain that grows new cells everyday!

To see an interview with and read an article about Dr. Fotuhi’s work on BrainWorldMagazine.com click here.

 

Works cited:

NeurExpand.com, NeurExpand Brain Center, 2014, Web. 9 Mar. 2014

Martin, David S.,How to cut your risk of memory loss”,CNN.com, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.. 9 Nov. 2011, Web., 9 Mar. 2014

 

Dr. Majid Fotuhi’s Hippocampus –Size Matters!, BrainWorldMagazine.com, Mind Crowd, A research project by TGen,  13 Mar. 2011, Web, 9 Mar. 2014

 

 

Prosopagnosia: Living Without Faces

Prosopagnosia: Living Without Faces

 

So many of us take for granted the ability to recognize other people.  To see the other people in the world – our families, our friends, our co-workers, or even famous actors and singers – and know who they are is an effortless occurrence that requires no conscious behavior on our part.  For those suffering from prosopagnosia, this is not the case.

In the June/July 2013 issue of Esquire magazine, Brad Pitt, one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood, admits he may suffer from prosopagnosia or “face blindness”, a condition where the ability to recognize faces is impaired.  In the interview, Pitt says that even if he’s had a “real conversation” with someone, he’ll forget what the person looks like almost as soon as he or she walks away.  (Read the article here)

The term prosopagnosia, (from the Greek, prosopo for face and agnosia for without knowledge), was first used by German physician Joachim Bodamer in the 1940’s who defined it as, “the selective disruption of the perception of faces, one’s own face as well as those of others, which are seen but not recognized as faces belonging to a particular owner”[1].  The condition which was previously considered to be caused only by injury or disease to the right brain’s lower portion of the temporal lobe, has recently been shown to be highly heritable[2] thus dividing it into 2 categories – acquired and developmental – however deficiencies in the fusiform gyrus (Figure 1) remain the basis in both.

Fusiform_gyrus_animation_small

Figure 1 – Fusiform Gyrus

commons.wikimedia.org

Patients with prosopagnosia both acquired and developmental see each component of the face, the eyes, nose and mouth but aren’t able to coalesce these features in order to recognize them the next time they see them.  This inability also leads to difficulty in reading facial expressions and interpreting emotion for some.  Most often prosopagnosics develop coping skills and learn to distinguish people based on other characteristics such as voice, facial hair or glasses.   Those with mild cases of the condition can often teach themselves to recognize a limited number of faces.

There seems to be much more about prosopagnosia that is not understood than understood.  Two leading researchers in the area, Ken Nakayama and Brad Duchaine have formed the Harvard Prosopagnosia Research Center and are seeking to find answers to not only how our brains process faces but also how the localization of function may work when we look at and perceive emotion, gender and skin color.  With the relatively recent discovery of developmental prosopagnosia and the aid of the Internet they have been presented with a much larger pool of subjects from which they can draw.  In 2006, their studies along with another German researcher have suggested a prevalence of 2% or nearly 6 million people in the United States.

Brad Pitt has been invited by Carnegie Mellon University to undergo testing for a formal diagnosis or rule out on his condition but to date neither his publicist nor TMZ has made any comment.

 


[1] David, Joshua. “Face Blind”. Wired.com Conde Nast. Nov. 2006. Web. 31 Jan. 2014.

[2] Song, Sora. “Do I Know You?”. Time.com. Time, Inc. 17 July 2006. Web. 1 Feb. 2014.