Institut Jean Nicod

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"Core knowledge" refers to a set of cognitive systems that appear very early in human development, universally across cultures, and are often preserved to some degree by natural selection (thus appearing in primate species). Some examples are an understanding of basic object mechanics, numbers, other people’s mental states, and even social categories (e.g. "my group" vs. "outsider"). Brent Strickland’s research asks how core knowledge continues to operate into adulthood in automatic and unconscious ways. He made a range of recent discoveries showing, in particular, that core knowledge structures automatically guide adult processes of language, memory, visual attention, and higher level reasoning. For example, he shown that core distinctions such as the distinction between animate objects and inanimate objects or males vs. females (which are both mastered by pre-verbal infants) make certain grammatical categories easier to learn (e.g. grammatical gender), potentially explaining why these are so common across the world’s languages.