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A cross-cultural comparison of weight and number conservation Storm, Jill Christine

Abstract

This study was designed to explore, cross-culturally, the generality of developmental sequences and to provide, in a tentative way, some information about the determinants of cognitive development. Indian and white children of British Columbia were compared on two related Piagetian tasks, namely, conservation of number and conservation of weight. An initial matched sample of 34 Indians and 34 whites was tested. Matching was on the basis of age, grade, sex and years of schooling. All Ss ranged from 6 to 10 years of age. They were in grades one to four. A second sample, including the matched sample, consisted of 67 Indians and 76 whites, selected from grades one to four and ranging in age from five to eleven. The results from the two samples were consistent. Conservation of weight and number increased with age, but not to the point of significance. Conservation on both tasks also increased at higher grade levels. The relationship between conservation of number and grade was significant in the total sample when both Indians and whites were combined (nonsignificant for each cultural group taken separately). In terms of sequential development, conservation of number was attained, in all but a very few cases, before conservation of weight. Most importantly, the overall results demonstrated (with one exception) no significant differences between Indians and whites. The exception was on conservation of weight in the total sample where significantly more Indian than white Ss conserved. Next, extinction procedures were carried out on 12 Indians and 12 whites who had previously demonstrated conservation of number and weight. Extinction occurred rapidly (within three trials) for most Ss in both cultural groups. These results are in disagreement with those obtained by Smedslund (196lc) and with the theoretical considerations of Piaget. An attempt was made to train for conservation of weight using Smedslund's (196lb) method of direct external reinforcement and a method called reverse external reinforcement. Reinforcement in both training methods involved allowing S to return the objects to the scales after he had made a judgment concerning their relative equality. Direct external reinforcement consisted in the presentation of two similar objects and the subsequent deformation of one of the objects. Reverse external reinforcement consisted in the presentation of two dissimilar objects and the subsequent deformation of one of the objects to resemble the other object. N was 10 in each ethnic group for direct external reinforcement; 4 in each group for reverse external reinforcement. A control group of 23 Ss was used to control for spontaneous acquisition of conservation between original testing and posttest following two training sessions. Neither training method was successful in comparison with the control group. There was an increase in number of Ss conserving from pre- to posttest in all groups. There were no differences between Indians and whites. These results were discussed in the first place, in terms of their relationship to Piaget's studies and other studies on the attainment of conservation of weight and number. Secondly, the implications for the area of cross-cultural testing far Piaget's developmental stages were discussed.

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