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Stable instability in development

Sara Baker

Thursday, December 07, 2006, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Psychology

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Traditional studies in cognitive development use group averages at different ages to infer developmental patterns of change. Microgenetic studies, which follow a group of children with repeated testing, produce developmental curves through a period of change. Still, curves based on group data are difficult to interpret because they could represent many individuals� abrupt change or many individuals� slow change, or a combination thereof. The problem of describing development is rendered more complex when multiple abilities are under question. Studies using group data show a correlation between preschoolers� ability to attribute beliefs to others and their inhibitory control (Carlson, Moses & Breton, 2002). But what of the pattern of development within the individual? Is the correlation between these abilities an artifact of group statistics, or is there a theoretically-relevant relationship between these abilities in individuals� development?We examined individual development on standard false belief (FB) tasks and inhibitory control (IC) tasks, repeatedly testing the same individuals over a period of several months. Using the Gallistel algorithm, we identified statistically significant change points in each individual�s development. By studying curves for FB and IC, we can relate change points on different tasks within a given individual.Our analyses show various developmental patterns across individuals, though most children show neither �sudden insight� nor steady monotonic change. We reveal a very long period of change, or �stable instability�. The microgenetic method coupled with individual change-point analysis gives a new picture of developmental change.

Sara Baker