Attention to novelty in selective learning : are children exploring stimulus properties or investigating reward consequences
Larson, Shari L.
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Learning requires attention to familiar, meaningful events along with exploration of novelty. Studies testing children's attention to novelty in selective-learning tasks, with the one exception of H. A. Cross and R. M. Vaughter in 1966, have shown that children between the ages of four and seven prefer novel over familiar stimuli. Two interpretations are given for children's attention to stimulus novelty. H. A. Harlow in 1953 and 1959 and D. P. Cantrell and H. A. Cross, in 1976, interpret children's novelty preferences as investigatory responses. Perhaps the children are exploring the reward consequences of the novel stimulus objects. However, others, e.g., W. Grabbe and J. C. Campione in 1969, explain novelty preference as a consequence of exploration of the perceptual features of stimulus objects. The experiment investigated each of the two hypothesized determinants of children's choices for novel objects in a two-choice discrimination paradigm. Seventy-five subjects from two different age groups (mean ages of five and seven) were divided into two groups (pretrained and nonpretrained). The pretrained subjects were taught the rule that there was only one reward used in the two-choice selective learning task. All subjects were given 16 two-choice selective learning problems along with additional questions in order to assess their choices and knowledge about the task. Analyses of the choice behaviors indicated that pretrained subjects chose novel objects less than nonpretrained subjects; knowledge of the rule that there is only one reward object attenuated their novel choice behaviors. Although pretraining affected choices, no effect for pretraining on subjects' answers to task-related questions was found. Older children stated reasons more consistent with the task than did younger children, yet older children rarely mentioned specific rules to be learned in the task. The experiment showed that investigation of reward consequences in the two-choice selective learning task is a major, although not the only, determinant for children's novel object choices.