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American Sign Language Essay

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For years psychologists have debated and tried to find out how our individual behaviour is gained- are we born with it or do we gain it through experience? Many psychologists have tried to find ways in which they can measure if our behaviour is learnt or inherited but these psychologists have encountered problems while doing so. One problem that psychologists have when investigating whether behaviour is learned or inherited is actually finding a task that can be given to all of the different participants.

Psychologists carrying out an experiment to find out about behaviour usually have participants which are different in some way, for example different sexes, different cultures, different levels of intelligence. Deregowski conducted a cross cultural experiment to see if people from different cultures perceive pictures the same. He found that the African children spent a lot of time looking at the pen and paper as they had never before seen or used them in their life. The same task has to be given to all of the participants as the same dependant variable is being measured and this is a big problem as it decreases the reliability of the results.

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Another problem is that it is very difficult to separate genetics and our experience as we begin learning from the moment we are born. This makes it hard to find a task that can measure just the intelligence we are born with because as long as we are on this planet, we are constantly learning new things that make us more intelligent. Gould carried out an experiment to measure people’s native intellectual ability (the intelligence we are a born with which is unaffected by culture and educational opportunities).

The experiment clearly didn’t measure native intellectual ability, as you needed to know about American culture to answer the questions. Even thought the experiment was biased and favoured Americans, it is still a good example of how difficult it is to measure our native intellectual ability because Gould’s aim for the experiment was to measure this but this obviously proved to be very difficult. Other psychologists have tried to measure the intellectual ability we are born with but many have began to question whether we can ever make a task that measures our native intellectual ability.

The only way we come very close to separating our learned and inherited ability is if we separate two identical twins at birth and put them into different environments. We could put one into an environment where a very minimal amount of behaviour is learnt from experience. For example we could put the twin into an empty room with no contact with the outside world and hardly any human contact (somewhat like a prison).

The other twin can lead a normal life by going to school, interacting with other people etc. We can then observe the two twins in later life and if their behaviour is very similar or the same, it proves that behaviour is inherited. If the twin who lived in the outside world is more developed that the twin who was shut away from the world, it would prove that our behaviour is gained through experience. This is the only ideal way to investigate whether behaviour is learned or inherited but is this method ethical?

Gardner & Gardner wanted to see whether a chimpanzee could communicate in American Sign Language and the only way they could investigate their aim was to treat a chimpanzee like a human and take it out of its natural habitat. They proved that a chimpanzee could communicate in ASL but the experiment was criticised by many people who thought it was unethical.

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