CHAPTER 10 (SUMMARY): THINKING AND LANGUAGE
Concepts, the building blocks of thinking, simplify the world by organizing it into a hierarchy of
categories. Concepts are often formed around prototypes, or the best examples of a category.
When faced with a novel situation for which no well-learned response will do, we may use
problem-solving strategies such as trial and error, algorithms, heuristics, and insight. Obstacles
to successful problem solving include the confirmation bias, mental set, and functional fixedness.
Heuristics provide efficient, but occasionally misleading, guides for making quick decisions.
Overconfidence, framing, belief bias, and belief perseverance further reveal our capacity for
Still, human cognition is remarkably efficient and adaptive. With experience, we grow adept
at making quick, shrewd judgments. Studies of artificial intelligence reveal the strengths of the
human mind. Although the computer shines on certain memory tasks and in making decisions
using specified rules, it is dwarfed by the brain’s wide range of abilities and capacity for
processing unrelated information simultaneously—although computer systems have been
designed to mimic the brain’s interconnected neural units.
Language facilitates and expresses our thoughts. Spoken language is built of phonemes,
morphemes, words, and the semantics and syntax that make up grammar. The ease with which
children master language has sparked a lively debate over whether children acquire language
through association and imitation or are biologically prepared to learn words and use grammar.
Thinking and language are difficult to separate. Although the linguistic determinism
hypothesis states that language determines thought, we know that thinking can occur without
language, and so we might better say that thinking affects our language, which then affects our
Another debate concerns whether language is uniquely human; it has been fueled by studies
of animals, particularly chimpanzees, who have developed considerable vocabularies and who
can string words together to express meaning. Although apes have considerable cognitive ability,
skeptics point out important differences between apes’ and humans’ abilities to order words
using proper syntax.
The nature of concepts and the role of prototypes in concept formation.
Cognitive psychologists study cognition, which is the mental activity associated with processing,
understanding, and communicating knowledge. To think about the countless events, objects, and
people in our world, we organize them into mental groupings called concepts. To simplify things
further, we organize concepts into hierarchies. Although we form some concepts by definition,
more often we form them by developing prototypes—a mental image or best example of a
particular category. The more closely objects match our prototype of a concept, the more readily