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Steven Pinker - Psychology and LearningSteven Pinker - Psychology and Learning


Steven Pinker (1954- )


Canadian psychologist (pictured right). 

Professor at Harvard University and best-selling author.


His most famous book is…

The Blank Slate (2002) – see point 3 below.


What does he teach us about psychology and learning?

 Steven Pinker - Psychology and Learning

1. Inherited intelligence

Pinker’s first best-seller was The Language Instinct (1994)

This popularized the belief of another famous psychologist, Noam Chomsky (1928- ), pictured right, that heredity (from your genes) plays a significant role in learning language.

Heredity limits how much influence parents and teachers can have on their children and students.

 Steven Pinker - Psychology and Learning

2. Evolution makes minds

Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist who believes that our mind has developed to ensure our survival (as Richard Dawkins , pictured right, also argued in his book, The Selfish Gene).

But we can't be purely selfish because we depend on others.

So we must:

  • be moral.
  • promote people's equal rights (e.g. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness).

But such equality doesn’t mean that people end up the same, because of differences in ability and effort.

 Steven Pinker - Psychology and Learning

3. We are more than our experiences

In his book, The Blank State (2002), Pinker rejects the idea of the philosopher, John Locke, pictured right, that our mind is like a blank page that is developed solely by experience and learning.

The mind, says Pinker, is also influenced by evolution and your genes (see point 2).


4. The brain is a computer

In another book, How the Mind Works (1997), Pinker likens the mind to a computer that deduces the implications of facts received from our:Steven Pinker - Psychology and Learning

  • senses (particularly sight).
  • understanding of how the world works.

To solve specific problems, the mind uses:

  • different sets of rules (or algorithms).
  • specialized parts of the brain .

Key quote on learning

It's not all in the genes.


Key quote on politics

Commitment to political equality is not an empirical claim that people are clones.


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