Changes in conceptual behavior in school children as a function of chronological age



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A developmental analysis of age changes in several dimensions of children's conceptualizations was conducted. Initially, it was hypothesized that, as children increased in age, they would increasingly reflect the effects of enculturation. Secondly, it was predicted that children would shift in levels of abstraction, changing from global, diffuse concepts in the younger years, to highly articulated, differentiated concepts in the intermediate years, to highly integrated concepts in the older years. Thirdly, it was hypothesized that there would be unspecified sex differences in these dimensions. Seventy subjects, ages six, eight, ten, twelve, and fourteen, from grades one, three, five, seven, and nine, were each administered an object-sorting test and an intelligence test. The fourteen subjects in each of the five age-grade groups did not differ significantly in intelligence ratings. Their sortings were scored in terms of "conceptual area analysis," "incomplete conceptual transactions," and "culturally-reinforced concepts," as outlined by McGaughran (1954, 1963), and elaborated in later research. These scoring systems provided a multivariable "conceptual area" analysis on the basis of which the first hypothesis could be tested along a "public-private" continuum (which serves as a measure of social agreement), and an "open-closed" continuum (which furnishes a measure of level of abstraction). Three of the four predicted measures supported the first hypothesis. The "public" measure did not follow the gradual linear rise with age. All of the measures supported the second hypothesis of a curvilinear relationship between age and level of abstraction. Sex differences were found in these measures; however, no attempt was made to generalize these findings, pending replication. Generally, the conclusions of the study were that conceptual area measures are sufficiently sensitive to reveal changes with age in the two dimensions of conceptual behavior. The broader "total" scores (i.e., open and public) however, are probably less useful than the specific CA, ICT, and CR categories in describing these age changes. A program for further research was briefly outlined, with particular attention given to the role of intelligence, detailed analysis of conceptual changes in the intermediate years, and the need for the establishment of additional behavioral referents.



Concepts, Developmental psychology