Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee

Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee
The study by the Gardner?s educated psychologists about how they should conduct their studies. Also through negative methodology the study showed the importance of sustaining validity in a study. Many aspects of the study can be replicated in order to increase validity of a study, and also many considerations are highlighted through the Gardners? study. According to Gardner and Gardner, ?the results of project Washoe presented the first serious challenge to the doctrine that only human beings have language?. This statement meant that the Gardner?s firmly believed that there study sustained a high level of both reliability and validity, which in turn they believed increased the generalisability of the study. The aim of the study was to demonstrate that a chimpanzee does has the capability to use human language. This study was conducted in order to explore the possibility of communicating with animals. Everyone agrees that animals can communicate with each other; the disagreement, which Gardner and Gardner wished to explore, was whether they can use something similar to human language to do this. The failure of the early studies to encourage chimpanzees to use speech sounds led the Gardners to look for a different mode of controlled communication.
The expressive qualities of a chimpanzee?s natural gestures meant that the language chosen was American Sign Language (asl). This thoughtful choice of asl meant that the studies reliability and validity was increased in a number of ways. It answered to critics of previous studies of a chimp just imitating sign language, which was symbolic for their meaning, as asl contained many arbitrary signs. It was also reasoned by the Gardners that as asl was commonly in use, they could create a comparison the progress of Washoe with the progress of a deaf child born to deaf parents. This also meant that a comparison could be made, which would mean that validity of the study was increased and would make the study more reliable as it was in constant direct comparison. The Gardner?s decided to begin with that they would use a young chimp, in order to ensure that there was no ?critical early stage? which may affect the results of the experiment. This methodological approach into using a young chimp ensured that the studies reliability was heightened, and this also increased the validity of the experiment. Washoe was estimated to be between 8 and 14 months when she arrived. This young age of Washoe meant that little progress could be made for the first few months, and Washoe was kept in an environment, which provided minimum distractions. This close control meant that the reliability of the study was increased as it was well scientifically controlled, but also lead to questions being asked about the ecological validity of the study. Washoe life was manipulated around the study, and so a generalised theory of ability of chimpanzees would be hindered-as not all chimpanzees grow up in carefully controlled environments. This idea meant that the methodological approach of using as young chimp as possible was also questioned. The independent variable of the study can be thought of as the training programme itself, and the dependant variable was Washoe?s actual use of the signs. Gardners? laboratory based experiment mean that close control over the independent variable could be sustained throughout the 32 months of experimenting. The use of standardised procedures in order to teach Washoe and, to some extent, record the results meant that the study could be labelled reliable. Records were kept about the amount of signing behaviour and number of signs used. A sign was recorded if it was reported by three different observers, as having occurred in an appropriate context and spontaneously (i.e. with no prompting other than a question such as ?what is it?? or ?what do you want??). A reported frequency of at least one appropriate and spontaneous occurrence each day over a period of 15 consecutive days was taken as the criterion of acquisition. By the end of 22 months of the programme at least 30 signs met these strict criteria. These strict criteria meant that the control of the experiment was high, and this in turn meant that the reliability study was increased to some extent. Although it is questioned that the three observers may have accepted a sign to meet the criteria merely because of their close relationship with Washoe, even if it was done so subconsciously. It is also said that Gardner and Gardner strict criteria was too strict. Many people argue that even most children would not be able to reach to the criteria set for Washoe, who was not even human. This meant that the studies ecological validity and validity in general was questioned. The main strength of the study, which answers to the reliability of the study, was the large amount of in-depth data that the Gardners collected about Washoe?s use of sign language. The amount of research that was carried out over 32 months meant that there was little doubt over Washoe?s ability to use sign language, and so the validity was enhanced. The constant direct comparison between a chimpanzee?s ability to learn language and a human child?s ability is brought into question at this point. It can be said that however impressive the results seem, it took a very artificial based training programme in order to get Washoe to this level. This, clearly, is not how human children acquire language, so any comparison that is made is invalid. This in turn means that the validity of the study is questioned, and also that Gardners? statement about language being unique to humans is not actually answered by the study. This shows the importance to further psychological studies, about the importance of sustaining ecological validity, as what is essential in order to eliminate doubts is the testing of a chimp learning language in a less structured, more natural context. Although the reliability of the study is widely accepted, the validity is constantly questioned. Not all psychologists agree that Washoe did acquire language. The debate centres on the difficulty of defining language. By the end of the 32nd month, Washoe had proven that she had acquired semanticity, ability to demonstrate displacement, and was creative in words as when she combined words. But, one criterion, which is used as a demonstration of language, is structure dependence. Washoe did not always seem to care about ?sign order.? This lack of ability supports the argument that only humans have the innate propensity to acquire language, and that the study was merely reiterating the demand characteristics that Washoe was encouraged to perform, and so, arguably, was invalid in proving its aim.

Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee 8.7 of 10 on the basis of 4054 Review.