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Abstract conservation tasks as a measurement for cognitive development in adults

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Item Summary

Title: Abstract conservation tasks as a measurement for cognitive development in adults
Authors: Larsen, Stirling David
Keywords: Conservation (Psychology)
Issue Date: 1978
Abstract: This paper identifies a cognitive skill that some adults have and others do not, viz., abstract conservation ability. The concept of abstract conservation is an extension of the familiar conservation problem paradigm for the purposes of the present research. It is suggested that this skill is experientially gained. This de-emphasis of maturation is contrary to popular Piagetian beliefs. Recent work in cognitive development indicates there may be types of development beyond what Piaget calls the Formal Operations period. Piaget implies that any further development beyond or during this period is quantitative. It is possible that a few skills identified in this research, including abstract conservation, constitute qualitative differences in thinking. If this is the case, current stage theories should be extended. Subjects were 94 community college students over 18 years of age, 36 of whom had experience in college physics classes and 58 of whom did not. The independent variables were whether or not students had experience in college physics, whether or not they received a demonstration on concrete conservation problems prior to performance on abstract conservation problems and whether or not they received additional sensory feedback during performance. The main hypothesis states that experience in college physics courses will make a difference in the abstract conservation abilities of the subjects. Two sub-hypotheses also imply that differences in abstract conservation skills will occur. One of these says that a demonstration in concrete conservation will make a difference. The other states that additional sensory feedback during the problem solving activities will also make a difference. Within the groups of physics and no-physics experience, subjects were randomly assigned to the other conditions. The dependent variable was the extent of abstract conservation demonstrated by each subject. Four abstract conservation problems were designed. These deal with physical concepts with which most adults are familiar. Presentation order of the problems was counterbalanced. All subjects were given the California Test of Mental Maturity prior to participating in the abstract conservation problems. After the problems were presented, each subject completed a questionnaire also designed to measure abstract conservation. Two judges independently scored the abstract conservation problems (~= .96). The two independent measures of abstract conservation ability, i.e. the problems and the questionnaire, were also correlated (~ = .64). It was found that adults do have great differences in abstract conservation ability. These differences were also found to be largely experiential. Students with physics backgrounds showed better abstract conservation than students with no physics backgrounds ()@(1) = 35.17, £ < .001). Multiple regression analysis using physics experience, questionnaire score, I.Q., sex, grade point average, and age as predictors was significant (F (1, 92) = 86.67, £ < .001). Analysis of covariance designs, with I.Q. and grade point average used as separate covariants, also yielded significant results (F (1, 91) = 61.56, £ < .001, using I.Q. as the covariant and F (1, 91) = 84.78, £ < .001, using grade point average as the covariant). On the other hand, whether or not the subjects received instruction or sensory feedback did not make a difference. Reasons for this are discussed. The abstract conservation paradigm was successful and easy to apply empirically. That the skill has obvious experiential resources is a challenge to the emphasis on heredity and maturational variables popular in stage theory approaches. It is suggested that as humans grow up the emphasis may change from maturational variables to environmental variables with respect to cognitive development. Implications of this are discussed with respect to stage theory, critical periods and sequential development in general and Piaget in particular.
Description: Typescript.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1978.
Bibliography: leaves 81-83.
viii, 83 leaves, bound ill. 29 cm
Rights: All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections:Ph.D. - Psychology

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