Language differences between reflective and impulsive fourth grade children

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Contradictory reports of previous researchers concerning the relationship between language abilities and the reflective-impulsive dimension prompted this investigation. From a sample of 118 fourth grade children, 57 subjects were classified as reflective or impulsive using the Matching Familiar Figures test. Three measures of language performance were administered. Scoring procedures were defined to adjust for chronological age of the subjects and ascending level of difficulty of the items on one of the language measures. Scores on the three measures were combined to form a Language Performance Index (LPI). Analyses of the data were both statistical and descriptive and included testing of differences between reflective and impulsive groups as well as an analysis of the kinds of errors made by each group.


  1. The difference between reflective-impulsive groups on the LPI was significant at the p ≤ .057 level of probability.

  2. Intelligence, sex and socioeconomic level contributed more to the difference found on the LPI than the reflective-impulsive designation.

  3. Impulsives made more errors on the language tests than reflectives, though not different kinds of errors.

  4. Impulsives displayed more maze behavior and were more likely to change the meaning of sentences they orally replicated.

  5. Impulsives experienced more difficulty on vocabulary items representing abstract concepts.

  6. Differences between groups on five subtests of the SRA Assessment Survey were not significant either before or after statistical control of intelligence and language performance.


  1. Impulsive fourth graders in the study displayed a lower level of language performance than their reflective counterparts on repetition of syntactically more complex sentence structures.

  2. Use of the LPI is a viable process for assessing different levels of language performance in the nine to twelve year old age group.

  3. The finding of no significant differences between groups on the achievement subtests may have been due to the difficulty level of the test.

  4. The results of the study tended to support conclusions of previous researchers that a relationship exists between the reflective-impulsive dimension and language performance.

Research Implications

  1. Because groups in the present study were non-equivalent, the study should be replicated on a group of nine to twelve year olds who are matched on known language correlates.

  2. Reasons for the changes in meaning upon repetition of sentences need to be delineated to determine whether original meanings were misunderstood or were lost in the process of repeating syntactically complex sentences.

  3. The predilection for impulsives to experience more difficulty with reverse digit span test items suggests a need for continued research on information processing differences between R-I groups.

  4. Treatment research designs need to be applied to impulsive responders for the language deficiencies identified-- problems with fluency and coherence, meaning change, and syntactical complexity.

  5. Psychologists and linguists should continue to work together toward construction of a language development test for the older elementary school child.