Recursive thought and control of private information in children with severe, neurotic learning inhibitions



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The purpose of this study was to investigate the development of recursive thought and the experience of keeping private information from others in children with severe, neurotic learning inhibitions. Recursive thought was defined as the imagination of another person's view as it bears on oneself. It was predicted that children with a specific kind of learning problem would show comparatively less well developed recursive thought and reduced feeling of control over their private thoughts. It was also expected that there would be an association between these two processes. Two groups of 20 boys between the ages of 10 and 12, matched on the variables of age, I. Q., and social class were studied. The experimental group was made up with children who manifested serious academic underachievement but no other chronic neurologic or behavioral symptoms. The control group included normally achieving children who were free of reported symptoms. Recursive thought was assessed with an unpublished test devised by Miller, Kessel, and Flavell. Control over private information was studied with a short story questionnaire, developed by this writer, that focused on the kind of information which if known to others, might result m punishment or other kinds of threats for children. A parametric statistical analysis of the obtained data confirmed all three hypotheses at a high degree of significance. However, the correlation between the two major variables was modest. An evaluation of the qualitative aspects of the data was carried out in order to clarify the findings. It was concluded that both normal and learning problem children can ordinarily feel secure about their control over private information by assessing their situation without regard for the psychological world of other people in it. It was also concluded that the learning inhibited child is threatened considerably more than his normal counterpart when the information he is struggling to keep to himself is such that some danger would result if it were disclosed and when other people in his situation give ambiguous cues about how much they know of the information. These conditions require that the child must be able to formulate the psychological world of the other person as it relates to him. This was believed to be a process which depends on recursive thought and role taking skills, capacities which the child with severe neurotic learning inhibitions was shown to be notably deficient in. Finally, certain teacher and psychotherapist behavior was discussed, because it appeared to have a potential for reinforcing the belief in neurotic children that others know certain of their private thoughts.



Slow learning children, Child psychology