Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

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Now You See It, Now You Don't: Preschoolers' Sensitivity to Spatiotemporal Continuity
by Anderson, Ali, M.A., University of Missouri - Columbia, 2010, 45; 13849370
Abstract (Summary)

Previous research suggests that infants understand spatiotemporal continuity and are able to reason about continuity violations (Baillargeon, Spelke, & Wasserman, 1985; Wynn, 1992). Continuity can be violated in two ways – an object suddenly appearing or an object suddenly disappearing. Recent work with infants (Wynn & Chiang, 1998) suggests that the two types of violations are not equivalent, with infants finding discontinuous disappearances more surprising. We extend this research to preschool children by asking (1) if preschoolers are able to detect violations of continuity and, (2) if the same asymmetry found with infants will be found with young children. In Experiment 1, we used a novel paradigm in which children witnessed seemingly “magical” appearances and disappearances of objects in box and were asked to report, ‘yes’ or ‘no’, whether a magic trick had occurred on each trial. Like young infants, preschoolers successfully detected continuity violations in this task. However, unlike infants, they detected discontinuous appearances and disappearances equally well, suggesting that for preschoolers, both types of continuity violations are equally salient. Because children could have been tracking the number of objects and/or the continuous extent of the hidden set (e.g., total volume of the objects) in order to detect the violations, in Experiment 2, we pitted number against continuous extent. Under these circumstances, children successfully detected continuity violations and again were much more likely to detect “magical” number changes than “magical” volume changes. This result is contrary to previous infant research in which infants often track continuous extent better than number (Feigenson, Carey, & Spelke, 2002). There was no difference in the rates of detecting disappearances and appearances. Experiment 3 was designed to see if preschoolers could be induced to detect “magical” volume changes by providing them with familiarization events in which the correct labels (‘yes’ that’s magical or ‘no’ that not) were provided. Despite this, preschoolers were no better than chance at detecting “magical” volume changes, but again detected “magical” number changes reliably better than chance. In sum, the present work suggests that, like infants, preschoolers are sensitive to violations of continuity. But unlike infants, appearances and disappearances are equally salient to young children. And finally, children’s ability to detect violations of continuity appears to be accomplished by their tracking number of objects, rather than the continuous extent of the hidden set.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: vanMarle, Kristy
Commitee: Cowan, Nelson, Garteren, Delinda van, vanMarle, Kristy
School: University of Missouri - Columbia
Department: Developmental Psychology
School Location: United States -- Missouri
Source: MAI 58/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Developmental psychology
Keywords: Continuous quantity, Development, Number, Object tracking
Publication Number: 13849370
ISBN: 978-0-438-96474-7
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