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The Role of Visual Cues in Children’s Rule Representation
Aaron T. Buss & John P. Spencer
www.delta-center.org
Department of Psychology and Delta Center, University of Iowa
Abstract
In the Dimensional Change Card Sort
Task (DCCS) children are asked to
sort cards by shape or color and then
to switch and sort by the other
dimension. Typically 3-yo’s fail to
switch rules. Zelazo (1996) found a
dissociation between knowledge and
rule-use such that children could
answer questions about the postswitch rules while not being able to
use these rule to sort cards. Here,
we eliminate this dissociation by
systematically removing structure
from the task-space. This suggests
robust overlap between what children
know and how they act.
The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS)
The DCCS is a rule-use task that taps into
aspects of WM, inhibition, and rule-representation
Children must switch from sorting rule using one
dimension to sorting by the other dimension
Typically, 3-year-olds fail to
switch rules, while 4-year-olds
can switch rules
Figure 1: Target cards and test
cards used in the DCCS.
Dissociation Between Knowledge and Action
Zelazo, Frye & Rapus (1996) showed that children who perseverate are still
able to answer questions about the post-switch rules
For example, after sorting by shape during the post-switch children were
asked: “Where do stars go in the shape game?” and “Where do circles go in the
shape game?”
Sorting
Children’s responses to the knowledge questions
P
F
were not related to their sorting performance, and the
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12
17
vast majority of children were able to correctly answer
Q’s
these questions despite not being able to actually use
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0
1
these rules to sort cards
The Role of Conflict in Children’s Knowledge of
Rules
Munakata & Yerys (2001) explored the role of conflict
by constructing questions that contained a level of
conflict consistent with that of the cards that were sorted:
“Where to blue stars go in the shape game?” or
“Where do red circles go in the shape game?”
Now significantly more children failed to answer the
questions correctly.
While the original dissociation between knowledge and
action was smaller, there were also cases where children
sorted correctly but answered incorrectly
This suggests that conflict is a critical factor to
children’s sorting behavior and knowledge of the rules,
but does not say anything about what children are
representing about the rules
The Nature of Children’s Rule Representations
This experiment explored the nature of children’s representation of the rules in the DCCS by
systematically removing structure from the task-space.
Conditions:
Sixty-three 3-year-olds (35-43 months) were given the standard DCCS task as depicted in figure 1.
Children were then asked uni-dimensional questions about the post-switch rules.
During the questions:
Standard: Sorting trays and target cards were present
Targets absent: Sorting trays were present, target cards were removed
Trays absent: Both sorting trays and target cards were removed. For this condition, black square
outlines at the locations of the trays were present for children to point to in response to the questions.
Results:
There was no effect of task order or gender on sorting or responses to questions.
Children’s sorting performance did not differ across conditions.
Children’s responses to questions were not significantly different between children in the Trays-absent
and Standard conditions (χ2(1)= 3.06, p= 0.08).
However, children in the Trays-absent condition failed knowledge questions significantly more than
children in the Standard condition (χ2(1)= 6.68, p= 0.01).
The Targets-absent and Trays-absent groups did not differ in their performance on knowledge questions
(χ2(1)= 3.64 , p= 0.06).
Sorting
P
F
St
Q’s
Sorting
No
Con.
Q’s
P
F
P
6
7
F
0
3
Sorting
Con.
Q’s
P
F
P
3
4
F
3
6
No Conflict Q’s
Con.
Q’s
P
P
F
7
0
P
7
13
F
0
1
Sorting
P
F
No
Cards
Q’s
P
6
11
F
2
2
Sorting
P
F
No
Trays
Q’s
P
7
6
F
2
6
Summary:
The data presented here shed light on the nature of children’s representation of rules in the DCCS—it is
anchored to the visual structure of the task space. Children are not necessarily abstracting rules about the
task, but are instead using the target cards to ground rule-use and representation in the task-space.
With the target cards and trays removed, significantly more children answered the uni-dimensional questions
incorrectly. And, as in Munakata and Yerys (2001), there were cases where children passed sorting, but
answered the rule questions incorrectly.
These data indicate that current theories need to account for the role of the visual structure of the task-space
in children’s rule-use, rule-flexibility, and rule-representation.
References
Zelazo, P. D., Frye, D. and Rapus, T. (1996). Age related dissociations between knowledge and action. Cognitive Development, 11(1), 37-63.
Munakata, Y. & Yerys, B. (2001). All together now: when dissociations between knowledge and action disappear. Psychological Science, 12(4), 335-337.
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Research supported by NSF HSD0527698 and NIH RO1 MH62480 awarded to JPS.
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