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Flexibility in Toddler’s Object Substitution Pretense: The Role of Object Knowledge and Executive Functions

Wissner, Julia

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Substituting objects in pretend play first emerges at around 18 months. Symbolic thinking is involved in this process, as one thing is used to stand for another. Accordingly, it is important to know how object-substitution pretense develops and how it connects to other cognitive and social processes. The current investigation focuses on the relation between flexibility in pretense involving object substitution and object knowledge. Furthermore, the role of basic cognitive skills such as executive functions for object-substitution is investigated. In Study 1, N = 72 toddlers participated in an imitation game involving simple actions performed on everyday objects. It was revealed that flexibility in object substitution pretense increases from 22 to 26 months of age: Older children were more proficient in joining the pretend game with familiar objects that were used in an unconventional fashion. In Study 2, N = 33 26-month-old children were tested with the same imitation game as in Study 1, using unfamiliar objects to present familiar actions. In Study 3, N = 37 children aged 26 months were tested in the imitation game with neither the objects nor the actions familiar to the participants. In Studies 2 and 3, flexibility in object substitution seemed increased as compared to Study 1: Children switched between two different uses of an object more easily. Highest flexibility was shown in Study 3 where reference to reality was lowest. Study 4 referred to data obtained in Studies 1, 2 and 3, but related it to self-regulation capacities. In Study 1, 26-month-olds who performed better in the object-substitution task also performed better in a rule shifting task. In Study 2, the suppression of a dominant impulse showed some relation to flexibly using one unfamiliar object for two different conventional actions. In Study 3, shifting skills were related to overall performance in executing the newly acquired actions with unfamiliar artifacts. The theoretical approach of the current investigation is derived from empirical findings on pretend play development, as well as development of the basic cognitive skills used to organize target oriented behavior. Results are discussed against the background of existing evidence and theoretical reflections. Further perspectives are developed on the basis of the obtained insights.

Item Type: Dissertation
Supervisor: Pauen, Prof. Dr. Sabina
Date of thesis defense: 5 September 2017
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2017 10:05
Date: 2017
Faculties / Institutes: The Faculty of Behavioural and Cultural Studies > Institute of Psychology
Subjects: 150 Psychology
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