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Modelling cognitive development with constructivist neural networks

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Based on recent evidence from cognitive developmental neuroscience, I argue for the importance of constructivist models of cognitive developmental phenomena. This point is empirically investigated with a constructivist neural network model of the acquisition of past tense/participle inflections. The model dynamically adapts its architecture to the learning task by growing units and connections in a task-specific way during learning. In contrast to other, fixed-architecture models, the constructivist network displays a realistic, U-shaped learning behaviour. In the trained network, realistic "adult" representations emerge that lead to aphasia-like dissociations between regular and irregular forms when the model is lesioned. These results show that constructivist neural networks form valid models of cognitive developmental processes and that they avoid many of the problems of fixed-architecture models.