Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology in the Media

1 Scientists Report Finding a Gene for Speech

From The New York Times online edition, Oct. 4, 2001:

"A team of geneticists and linguists say they have found a gene that underlies speech and language, the first to be linked to this uniquely human faculty.

"The discovery buttresses the idea that language is acquired and generated by specific neural circuitry in the brain, rather than by general brain faculties. [...]

"The new discovery is described in the Oct. 4, 2001, issue of Nature by Dr. Anthony P. Monaco of the University of Oxford in England and colleagues.

"The gene first came to light through study of a large family, half of whose members have trouble pronouncing words properly, speaking grammatically and making certain fine movements of the lips and the tongue. Asked to speak a repetitive sound like "pataca pataca pataca," they will stumble over each iteration. Outsiders have trouble understanding them when they speak, and family members have difficulty understanding one another. Some of the affected members, though not all, seem normal otherwise, suggesting that a specific impairment of speech and language is the root of their problem.

"The new study shows that all the affected members have inherited a mutation, or variant piece of DNA, in a specific gene. The mutation affects a single unit in the 6,500 units of DNA that make up the gene. So delicate is the human genetic programming that this minuscule change suffices to sabotage the whole faculty of speech and language. [...]

"But Dr. Steven Pinker, a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that he thought the new gene "shows there is some innate specialization of the brain for language" and that it provided "soft support, though not hard support," for Dr. Chomsky's thesis."

2 Multitasking Reduces Productivity

From, Aug. 6, 2001:

"Multitasking is a managerial buzz-concept these days, a post-layoff corporate assumption that the few can be made to do the work of many. But newly released results of scientific studies in multitasking indicate that carrying on several duties at once may, in fact, reduce productivity, not increase it.

"In some cases, you could be wasting your employer's time," says researcher Joshua Rubenstein, Ph.D., formerly of the University of Michigan and now with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) working on security issues. "And in certain cases" of multitasking, Rubenstein says, "you could be risking employers a dangerous outcome."

"In the research behind an article titled "Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching" -- published in August 2001 in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance -- Rubenstein and his associates David Meyer, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Evans, Ph.D., determined that for all types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another.

"These "time costs" increased with the complexity of the chores: It took longer, say researchers Rubenstein and Meyer, for subjects to switch between more complicated tasks."

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