Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Symbols can help children control impulses, get more of what they want

07.09.2005


Sometimes less is more.



That is a difficult concept to grasp, particularly when you are a 3-year-old. But psychologists have discovered something that helps – symbols.

Researchers investigating how self-control develops in children found that abstract symbols can lead the youngsters toward a more optimal decision than when they have to make a choice with tangible objects such as candy.


This was demonstrated when the researchers gave 3-year-olds the choice of a tray with two pieces of candy or one with five. Even when told that the tray they picked would be given away, most of the youngsters still picked the tray with the most candies.

However, when abstract symbols, such as dots or animal pictures were used to represent the candy, many of the 3-year-olds caught on and chose the symbol representing the smaller amount of candy, leading to the larger reward.

"Many 3-year-olds are compelled to point to larger rewards even though in this game that means they will get a smaller reward. When you remove the real reward and substitute it with symbols, it enables children to control their response," said Stephanie Carlson, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology and lead author of a new study appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"When children get stuck on a problem, using symbols can help them solve it. For example, if you are trying to get kids to wait for a marshmallow as a reward it is helpful to get them to think about the reward in a different way – such as thinking of the marshmallow as a fluffy cloud to help them delay gratification. Many parents, however, tend to do the opposite. They say, ’you can’t have it now, but just think about how good it will taste when you can.’ This increases the temptation instead of shifting their attention," she said.

Carlson, who is studying executive functioning, or how children develop the ability to control their thoughts and actions, set up two experiments.

The first showed that this ability is directly related to age and verbal ability. In the experiment, 101 typically developing 3- and 4-year-olds had to make the choice between the trays containing either smaller or larger amounts of candy (jellybeans or chocolate chips). An experimenter explained the rules, and showed each child that when they pointed to a tray the candy would go to a toy monkey and the child would get the contents on the other tray. Each child was given 16 test trials, with candy being replaced on the trays after each trial.

Four-year-olds significantly outperformed the 3-year-olds, although some of the 3-year-olds with high verbal ability scored well. The 3-year-olds did not improve over the course of the trials while 4-year-olds showed significant learning.

"Three-year-olds tended to be inflexible and didn’t seem to improve with the feedback of seeing the toy monkey getting more treats," said Carlson. "But 4-year-olds changed strategies and appeared to learn from feedback without any explicit instruction."

In the second experiment, the researchers tested 128 typically developing 3-year-olds. The children were randomly assigned to one of four conditions – real treats, rocks, dots and one called mouse vs. elephant. In this experiment, two boxes with drawers containing two or five candies replaced the trays. In the first two conditions, a number of the candy or rocks corresponding to candy inside the drawers were placed on top of the boxes. In the dot condition pictures with a small or large number of dots were placed atop the boxes. In the mouse vs. elephant condition pictures of those animals were placed on the boxes and the children also were shown a stuffed toy mouse and elephant and told they had a small or large stomach that could hold a few or a lot of candies. In each case the researchers made sure the children understood that what was on top of each box corresponded to the two or five candies inside the drawers.

Then, as in the first experiment, the children were told to pick one of the two boxes, with candies inside the one they chose going to a toy monkey. Each child was given 16 trials.

There were significant performance differences depending on what was on top of the boxes. With the candies and the rocks, most of the children continued to pick the boxes with the larger amounts on top, just as the 3-year-olds in the first experiment did. But in the dots and mouse vs. elephant conditions, the children picked the boxes representing the smaller amount of candy significantly more often. And their performance was strongest in the most abstract conditions, mouse vs. elephant.

Carlson said the substitution of the real reward with symbols allowed the children to control their responses. Faced with the rock choice they "were compelled to pick the large number because the rocks had a one-to-one correspondence with the real treat." She said with the dots there was no resemblance to the treats, just lots or less dots, and amounts were totally eliminated in the choice between the mouse and elephant. The 3-year-olds performance on the mouse vs. elephant choice matched the performance of the 4-year-olds in the first experiment.

There were no differences in the performance by boys and girls in the two experiments.

Carlson said a big jump in children’s self-control typically occurs between 3 and 4, along with other major related developmental changes such as the ability to understand another person’s perspective and to engage in elaborate pretend play.

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Amputees can learn to control a robotic arm with their minds
28.11.2017 | University of Chicago Medical Center

nachricht The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

Im Focus: A transistor of graphene nanoribbons

Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."

Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

Blockchain is becoming more important in the energy market

05.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Making fuel out of thick air

08.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Rules for superconductivity mirrored in 'excitonic insulator'

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

Smartphone case offers blood glucose monitoring on the go

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>