Learning as a Task or a Virtue: U.S. and Chinese Preschoolers Explain Learning

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The purpose of this study was to examine cultural influences on conceptual orientations of learning in U.S. and Chinese preschoolers. A sample of 188 preschoolers 4–6 years of age provided free-narrative responses to 2 story beginnings about the learning behavior of 2 protagonists, 1 who worked hard and 1 who gave up. Results showed that despite some differences in the younger age groups, children from both cultures valued learning similarly at age 6. However, important cultural differences emerged in children's construals of the learning process. U.S. children showed a heightened awareness of the mind/task attributes of the learner, that is, ability, task attempting, and strategy use. By contrast, Chinese children perceived more the learner's dispositional qualities of diligence, persistence, and concentration. These trends increased as children's age increased. The U.S. findings are interpreted as reflecting the U.S. cultural emphasis on learning as a task, and the Chinese results, as reflecting the Chinese cultural focus on learning as a process of cultivating personal virtue.

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