Abstraction and cognitive flexibility were assessed in 197 preschool children at 2, 3, 4, and 5 years of age using the Flexible Item Selection Task, a task adapted from the Visual-Verbal Test (Feldman & Drasgow, 1951). On this new inductive task, children were shown a set of 3 cards and required to select 2 cards that matched each other on 1 dimension (Selection 1) and then to select a different pair of cards that matched each other on another dimension (Selection 2). Thus, 1 of the 3 cards always had to be selected twice according to different dimensions. Two-year-olds failed to understand basic task requirements as assessed by a criterial measure. Three-year-olds did more poorly on Selection 1 than 4- and 5-year-olds (who performed near ceiling), suggesting that 3-year-olds had difficulty with the abstraction component of the task. Four-year-olds did worse than 5-year-olds on Selection 2, suggesting that they had difficulty with the cognitive flexibility component (i.e., difficulty selecting the same card on more than 1 dimension). Results are discussed in terms of the development of executive function.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to Philip David Zelazo, and an NSERC Postgraduate Fellowship and Ontario Graduate Scholarship to Sophie Jacques. We thank Victoria Orekhovsky, and especially Jodie M. Burton, for invaluable assistance with participant recruitment and data collection. We are also grateful to Stella Felix Lourenco, Stuart Marcovitch, and Ulrich Müller for providing helpful comments on a previous draft. This work was submitted as part of a doctoral dissertation to the University of Toronto. A portion of this work was also presented at the 105th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, IL, August 1997.