The height + width rule in children's judgments of quantity

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Abstract

Examined rules for stimulus integration in 8 experiments with 121 5-yr-olds and 20 8- and 11-yr-olds. Judgments of area of rectangles by 5-yr-olds obeyed an adding rule: height + width. This was surprising, because simple perception of area ought to follow the height × width rule that was obtained with older Ss. For younger Ss, the height + width rule was reliable across all experimental manipulations. This rule is interpreted in terms of a general-purpose integration rule and a general metric sense. Young children lack a clear, adult conception of specific quantities, use whatever quantitative cues seem relevant, and integrate them by a general-purpose adding rule to arrive at their judgment. A single general metric sense, which is present at least by age 3, mediates the expression of quantitative judgments of many physical and social concepts. Experiments showed that judgments of amount of wax in translucent cylinders obeyed the height-only rule when the cylinders were inside of glasses, but obeyed the height + width rule when they stood alone. These results, together with related studies of information integration in children, show that centration is not a pervasive characteristic of the young child's thinking. A new interpretation of conservation suggests that conservation is derivative from object invariance and specific experiential factors. (3 p ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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