Context effects on preschool children’s symbolic behavior

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Forty-eight preschoolers were tested individually for symbolic use of objects when realistic props were within sight or when no object props were present. Representational behavior was coded for gestural depiction vs symbolic use of objects. The results showed that three-year-olds but not four-year-olds performed less well when realistic props were within sight. A second study observed 52 children in pairs with a teacher and with either realistic or nonrealistic props present. Results were consistent with the first study for context and age effects, but no age by context interaction was found. Older preschoolers were rated as more imaginative than younger preschoolers, while children overall were rated as more physically active with realistic props present. The studies suggest that realistic materials may depress representational performance in younger but not older preschoolers in a formal testing situation but may depress performance of both age groups in a less formalized situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-268
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Genetic Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1983

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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