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Keywords:

  • Cognitive architecture;
  • Conceptual development;
  • Infancy;
  • Spatial primitives;
  • Perceptual Meaning Analysis

Abstract

A theory of how concept formation begins is presented that accounts for conceptual activity in the first year of life, shows how increasing conceptual complexity comes about, and predicts the order in which new types of information accrue to the conceptual system. In a compromise between nativist and empiricist views, it offers a single domain-general mechanism that redescribes attended spatiotemporal information into an iconic form. The outputs of this mechanism consist of types of spatial information that we know infants attend to in the first months of life. These primitives form the initial basis of concept formation, allow explicit preverbal thought, such as recall, inferences, and simple mental problem solving, and support early language learning. The theory details how spatial concepts become associated with bodily feelings of force and trying. It also explains why concepts of emotions, sensory concepts such as color, and theory of mind concepts are necessarily later acquisitions because they lack contact with spatial descriptions to interpret unstructured internal experiences. Finally, commonalities between the concepts of preverbal infants and nonhuman primates are discussed.