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Preschool Children's Symbolic Representation of Objects Through Gestures

Chris J. Boyatzis and Malcolm W. Watson
Child Development
Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jun., 1993), pp. 729-735
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1131214
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131214
Page Count: 7
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Preschool Children's Symbolic Representation of Objects Through Gestures
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Abstract

To investigate the symbolic quality of preschoolers' gestural representations in the absence of real objects, 48 children (16 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds) performed 2 tasks. In the first task, they were asked to pretend to use 8 common objects (e. g., "pretend to brush your teeth with a toothbrush"). There was an age-related progression in the symbolic quality of gestural representations. 3- and 4-year-olds used mostly body part gestures (e. g., using an extended finger as the toothbrush), whereas 5-year-olds used imaginary object gestures (e. g., pretending to hold an imaginary toothbrush). To determine if children's symbolic skill is sufficiently flexible to allow them to use gestures other than those spontaneously produced in the first task, in the second task children were asked to imitate, for each object, a gesture modeled by an experimenter. The modeled gesture was different from the one the child performed on the first task (e. g., if the child used a body part gesture to represent a particular object, the experimenter modeled an imaginary object gesture for that object). Ability to imitate modeled gestures was positively related to age but was also influenced by the symbolic mode of gesture. 3-year-olds could not imitate imaginary object gestures as well as body part gestures, suggesting that young preschoolers have difficulty performing symbolic acts that exceed their symbolic level even when the acts are modeled. Results from both tasks provide strong evidence for a developmental progression from concrete body part to more abstract imaginary object gestural representations during the preschool years.

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