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Strategy development and the role of language Noland, Andrea

Abstract

This study investigated the role of language in the frequency and nature of preschool children's memory strategies. Twenty children, aged 18-33 months, were observed during a memory-for-location task for their use of potentially strategic behaviors. Each child accompanied the researcher while she hid a stuffed toy in a natural location (e.g., under a pillow). The children were told to remember the toy's location, in order to retrieve the toy when a bell rang after a delay of 3 minutes. During the delay interval, six behaviors occurred: looking, pointing, approaching, attempting to retrieve, peeking, and verbalizations. These behaviors could be used by the child in order to aid their memory of the hiding place. A control trial was also included and was like the experimental trial in all respects except that the toy remained visible during the delay interval. Frequencies of the target behaviors were compared among themselves and also were correlated with scores on two standardized language measures. There were three main findings, (1) these young preschool children produced more of the target behaviors when memory was required than when it was not, (2) non-verbal strategies were used more often than verbal ones, and (3) verbal proficiency predicted the use of memory strategies. Post-hoc tests indicated that children who had more advanced language skills were less likely to use overt memory strategies but, as the task progressed, children who earned higher percentile scores on the language tests talked more during the experiment. These results are consistent with developmental theories that emphasize the initial cost of using memory strategies to solve a problem and the constraints inherent in low language knowledge. They also point to the importance of attending to non-verbal behaviors when evaluating cognitive skills in very young children.

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