The effects of conceptual training on reversal learning in young children

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


To determine the relationship between conceptual development and performance on reversal learning tasks in children, a three part experiment was conducted employing 45 preschool, 45 kindergarten and 45 second grade children. During part one, all 135 subjects were taught the initial learning phase of the Kendler’s (1962) reversal shift task. When initial learning criterion was met, subjects from each age group were divided into 3 subgroups of 15 subjects each. The first subgroup was given conceptual training on an analytic task described by Kagan, Moss and Sigel (1963). The second subgroup was given conceptual training on a nonanalytic task (also described by Kagan et. al., 1963) and the third subgroup served as a control group by receiving no conceptual training. Once training criterion was met, all subjects were given a reversal shift task. Three significant trends were found: (1) with increasing age, reversal performance improved, (2) kindergarten children were more nonanalytic in their response preference than either preschool or second grade children and (3) while both types of training resulted in enhanced reversal performance, analytic training was more useful than nonanalytic training in facilitating reversal learning. Two separate phenomena are suggested by these results. First, preschool and kindergarten children appear to make discriminations on the basis of dimensional preferences while second grade children are able to discriminate on the basis of analytic reasoning. Second, for those subjects unable to verbally mediate, training appears to help them focus their attention on the relevant dimensions of the discrimination task.