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An Alternative to Domain-general or Domain-specific Frameworks for Theorizing about Human Evolution and Ontogenesis

Birkbeck Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development, University of London, London WC1N 7HX, UK

This paper maintains that neither a domain-general nor a domain-specific framework is appropriate for furthering our understanding of human evolution and ontogenesis. Rather, as we learn increasingly more about the dynamics of gene-environment interaction and gene expression, theorists should consider a third alternative: a domain-relevant approach, which argues that the infant brain comes equipped with biases that are relevant to, but not initially specific to, processing different kinds of input. The hypothesis developed here is that domain-specific core knowledge/specialized functions do not constitute the start state; rather, functional specialization emerges progressively through neuronal competition over developmental time. Thus, the existence of category-specific deficits in brain-damaged adults cannot be used to bolster claims that category-specific or domain-specific modules underpin early development, because neural specificity in the adult brain is likely to have been the emergent property over time of a developing, self-structuring system in interaction with the environment.
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Keywords domain-specific; domain-general; domain-relevant; neuroconstructivism; emergent structure; evolution

Citation: Annette Karmiloff-Smith. An Alternative to Domain-general or Domain-specific Frameworks for Theorizing about Human Evolution and Ontogenesis. AIMS Neuroscience, 2015, 2(2): 91-104. doi: 10.3934/Neuroscience.2015.2.91


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