Glossary - Thoughts & Language

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Thoughts & Language

classical conditioning A learning process whereby a response is triggered through association. The most famous example is Pavlov’s dogs. By ringing a bell every time the dog is presented with food, the dog comes to associate the sound of the bell with food and starts to salivate whenever it is rung.

coma A deep, often prolonged state of unconsciousness during which the patient is unable to respond to any external stimuli.

generative linguistics A school of thought in linguistics which suggests that language has innate structures and rules that are universally understood by all speakers. The idea was developed by Noam Chomsky in the 1960s and sparked a growth in the study of linguistics.

global workspace theory An explanation of the way the brain accesses multiple mental functions at the same time. It is usually described as a theatre, with the stage being the conscious mind. A spotlight illuminates the current focus of one’s thoughts, while the rest of the stage is half-lit, representing thoughts on the periphery of the conscious mind. The audience is the passive, unconscious mind observing the performance, while other mental functions perform their duties backstage.

long-term memory The brain’s capacity to store information for long periods — possibly an entire lifetime. Short-term memory can become long-term through a process of repetition and meaningful association. Long-term memory divides into two broad categories: episodic (literal memory of events) and semantic (generic skills and information that can be used at different occasions).

operant conditioning A learning process whereby behaviour is influenced through a system of reward and punishment. This can take the form of positive or negative reinforcement, in which a reward is given or a penalty removed to encourage certain behaviour. Or it can take the form of positive or negative punishment, whereby a punishment is threatened or a reward is removed to discourage certain behaviour. The theory was developed by US psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1950s.

opioid receptor A group of molecules that painkillers can lock onto and which reduces the ability of a cell to send ’pain’ messages to the brain. Opioid receptors are found in the spinal column and the medial thalamus area of the brain, both of which are associated with pain detection. ’Opioid’ refers to any opium-like chemical, so opioid receptor simply means the receiver of opium-like substances.

persistent vegetative state The condition of someone who has come out of a coma but shows no signs of awareness, and has not done so for at least four weeks. ’Vegetative state’ refers to someone who has been in this condition for less than four weeks. Unlike someone in a coma, a patient in a persistent vegetative state can open their eyes and displays sleep-wake cycles. If the condition persists for at least a year, it becomes a permanent vegetative state.

phonology The study of the sound system of a language and how these sounds function and convey meaning. This differs from phonetics, which is concerned with the physical way these sounds are produced and received.

semantics The study of the meaning of language. Semantics differs from syntax in that it focuses on the meaning given to words and how that relates to the objects they describe, whereas syntax is concerned with the actual structure of language.

short-term memory The brain’s capacity to store information for short periods — according to most studies for as little as 20—30 seconds. Short-term memory (also known as working memory) is important for remembering specific information, such as a phone number, before writing it down or consigning it to long-term memory through repetition. It also helps with functional activities, such as remembering what was at the beginning of a sentence when you reach its end.

syntax The rules that govern the structure of language. Syntax is not concerned with what the words mean, only how they are arranged and formed.