Frederick II the emperor of Germany from 1196 to 1250 was called a wonder of the world by his admiring subjects. He was a keen scientist and conducted the following experiment,
He bade foster mothers and nurses to suckle their children, to bathe and wash them, but in no way to prattle to them, for he wanted to learn whether they would speak the Hebrew language, which was the oldest, or Greek or Latin or Arabic or perhaps the language of their parents of whom they had been born. But he laboured in vain because all the children died. For they could not live without the petting and joyful faces and loving words of their foster mothers.(Ross and McLaughlin, 1949, p.360)
Children learn to communicate through the messages that they receive from us. They are conditioned by the environment that we provide and are taught by us how to respond. A name given to this is behavioural conditioning.
There is a story about a young psychologist who wanted to train his small son to use the potty. Since children don’t usually find the toilet seat too much fun or too stimulating he decided to change this by bringing an element of pleasure to the toilet environment. He obtained a circus poster of a clown that was colourful and smiling with a big nose. He placed a red light bulb in the nose and switched it on while the child was on the potty. Needless to say the child enjoyed this immensely and as a result wanted to go to the toilet all the time. Later it wasnt too difficult to rig an electrical circuit so that whenever the child urinated the circuit was completed and the nose light up.
This also produced what is called a stimulus generalisation, which means that a stimulus like the original can produce a response like the original. One day the father and the son went on a car ride and were stopped by a red light.
Can you guess what happened?