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Symbolic Functioning in Very Young Children: Understanding of Pictures and Models

Judy S. DeLoache
Child Development
Vol. 62, No. 4 (Aug., 1991), pp. 736-752
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1131174
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131174
Page Count: 17
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Symbolic Functioning in Very Young Children: Understanding of Pictures and Models
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Abstract

Before one can understand or use any symbol, one must first realize that it is a symbol, that is, that it stands for or represents something other than itself. This article reports 4 studies investigating very young children's understanding of 2 different kinds of symbolic stimuli-scale models and pictures. The data replicate previous findings that 2.5-year-old children have great difficulty appreciating the relation between a scale model and the larger space it represents, but that they very readily appreciate the relation between a picture and its referent. This result is interpreted in terms of the dual orientation hypothesis. Models are difficult for young children because they require a dual representation-a child must think about a model both as an object itself and as a representation of something else. Because pictures are not salient as real objects, they do not require a dual representation. Several kinds of evidence supporting the dual orientation hypothesis are presented. An additional result was the occurrence of a transfer effect: Prior experience with a picture task led to better performance on a subsequent model task. This finding suggests that experience with a symbolic medium they understand can help young children figure out a different, unfamiliar medium that they would otherwise not understand.

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