Young children's performance on the balance scale: The influence of relational complexity
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Three experiments investigated the effect of complexity on children's understanding of a beam balance. In nonconflict problems, weights or distances varied, while the other was held constant. In conflict items, both weight and distance varied, and items were of three kinds: weight dominant, distance dominant, or balance (in which neither was dominant). In Experiment 1, 2-year-old children succeeded on nonconflict-weight and nonconflict-distance problems. This result was replicated in Experiment 2, but performance on conflict items did not exceed chance. In Experiment 3, 3- and 4-year-olds succeeded on all except conflict balance problems, while 5- and 6-year-olds succeeded on all problem types. The results were interpreted in terms of relational complexity theory. Children aged 2 to 4 years succeeded on problems that entailed binary relations, but 5- and 6-year-olds also succeeded on problems that entailed ternary relations. Ternary relations tasks from other domains-transitivity and class inclusion-accounted for 93% of the age-related variance in balance scale scores.
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology