Concreteness and the Dual Representation Hypothesis

What accounts for the fragility of young children's comprehension of the relation between the room and the model? In several studies we have demonstrated that the concreteness of the model is actually

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20 sec 2 min 5 min Delay Interval

Figure 8.2 The effect of delay on children's use of a model. The initial delay led to much worse performance, even on the subsequent shorter days.

a cause of children's difficulty in using it as a symbol. Highly attractive and salient objects may be particularly difficult for children to think of as representations of something elseā€”as symbols. This interpretation highlights the dual nature of the influence of concreteness on children's performance. Although concreteness may help children to perceive physical similarities between symbols and their referents, it also may make it more difficult for them to think about the abstract symbolic relation between the two.

A scale model such as the one used in our task has a dual nature; it is both a symbol and an object (or a set of objects) with a very high degree of physical salience. The very features that make it highly interesting and attractive to young children as a concrete object to play with, can obscure its role as a representation of something else. To use a model as a symbol, children must achieve dual representation (DeLoache, 1991, 1995, 2000; DeLoache & Burns, 1994; DeLoache, Miller, & Rosengren, 1997). They must mentally represent the model itself as an object and, at the same time, as a symbol for what it represents. In the model task, the child must form a meaningful mental representation of the model as a miniature room in which toys can be hidden and found, and he or she has to interact physically with it. At the same time, the child must represent the model as a term in an abstract, "stands for" relation, and he or she must use that relation as a basis for drawing inferences.

According to the dual representation hypothesis, the more salient a symbol is as a concrete object, the more difficult it is to appreciate its role as a symbol for something other than itself. Thus, the more young children are attracted to a model as an interesting object, the more difficult it will be for them to detect its relation to the room it stands for.

The dual representation hypothesis has generated several interesting predictions. For example, it suggests that factors that decrease children's attention to the model as an interesting object should increase their use of the model as a symbol. In one study, 2%-year-old children's access to the model was decreased by placing it behind a window (DeLoache, 2000). The children could still see the location of the toy in the model, but they could have no direct contact with the model. This manipulation led to better performance. Conversely, factors that increase children's attention to the model as an object should lead to a decrease in their use of the model as a representation of something else. This prediction also was confirmed. Allowing 3-year-old children to play with the model for 5 to 10 minutes led to a decrease in performance when children were asked to use it to find the toy in the room (DeLoache, 2000).

Another finding that supports the dual representation hypothesis concerns children's use of photographs, rather than the model, to find the toy. Two-and-one-half-year-olds, who typically perform very poorly in the standard model task, perform much better when a photograph is substituted for the model (DeLoache & Burns, 1993, 1994; DeLoache, Pierroutsakos, & Uttal, 2003). A photograph is less salient as an object and hence could be considered less concrete than a model is. Most obviously, the model is a three-dimensional representation, whereas the photograph is only two-dimensional. In support of the hypothesis, the 2%-year-olds performed much better with a photograph than their age-mates did with the model. In sum, the results indicate that a more concrete object, a model, may be more difficult to use than a less concrete object, a photograph.

DeLoache, Miller, and Rosengren (1997) have provided especially strong support for the dual representation hypothesis. In this research, 2%-year-old children were led to believe that a shrinking machine could shrink (and, subsequently, enlarge) a room. The idea was that if children believe that a scale model actually is a room that has been shrunk by a machine, then there is no symbolic relation between the two spaces; to the child, the model simply is the room. Hence, dual representation is not required, so children should have no trouble reasoning about the relation between the two spaces.

Each child was first given a demonstration in which a "shrinking machine" (an oscilloscope accompanied by computer-generated sounds described as the "sounds the machine makes while it's working") apparently caused a troll doll to turn into a miniature version of itself. The machine then supposedly "enlarged" the troll back to its original size. Next, the machine seemed to cause the "troll's room" (a tent-like room used in many previous model studies) to turn into a scale model identical to it except for size. It then enlarged the room.

The child then watched as the experimenter hid the larger troll somewhere in the portable room. After waiting while the machine "shrunk" the room, the child was asked to find the hidden toy. (The miniature troll was, of course, hidden in the same place in the model as the larger troll was in the room.) Thus, just as in the standard model task, the child had to use his or her knowledge of where the toy was hidden in one space to figure out where to search in the other. Unlike the standard task, there was no representational relation between the two spaces. As predicted on the basis of the dual representation hypothesis, performance was significantly better in this nonsymbolic task than in the standard model task. We know of no basis other than dual representation to explain this result.

The discussion thus far reveals that although the model is a highly salient concrete object, young children have difficulty using it as a symbol. Moreover, the concreteness of the model may be part of the problem, as children must look past the model's salient, concrete properties to understand that it is intended to be a representation of something else. These results have important implications for children's understanding of other symbol systems, such as letters and numbers. We explore these implications in the next section.

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