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Solving Problems with Ambiguous Subgoal Ordering: Preschoolers' Performance

David Klahr
Child Development
Vol. 56, No. 4 (Aug., 1985), pp. 940-952
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1130106
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1130106
Page Count: 13
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Solving Problems with Ambiguous Subgoal Ordering: Preschoolers' Performance
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Abstract

Recent evidence has shown that although there are large adult-child differences in overall problem-solving performance, even preschoolers have rudimentary forms of strategies such as means-ends analysis that rely on the use of subgoals. However, in many situations, means-ends analysis is not applicable, and in order to solve a problem, some other method must be used. This study further explores preschoolers' repertoire of problem-solving methods. We use problems in which it is difficult to order subgoals, and in which, therefore, some method other than means-ends analysis must be used. 40 children between 45 and 70 months of age were presented with problems having ambiguous subgoal ordering. Although individual scores varied widely, none of several indices of performance were reliably correlated with age. A detailed analysis of move sequences revealed that preschoolers (a) tend to avoid backup, (b) are sensitive to incremental progress toward the goal, and (c) search 2 or 3 moves ahead for a goal. All of these component skills were combined into a "hill-climbing" method that explains 70% of the variance in problem difficulty.

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