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Flexibility of Children's Attention: Instructions Regarding Development of Attention in a Component Selection Task NICHD

Flaugher, Janice; Green, Roberta Z.; Hale, Gordon A.; Taweel, Suzanne S.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Age Differences, Attention, Cognitive Development, Elementary School Students, Preschool Children, Responses


The effects of instructions on children's component selection were examined in three experiments. In Experiment 1, 5- and 8-year-old children were given: (a) instructions to attend to the dominant stimulus component (shape), (b) instructions to attend to the nondominant or secondary feature (color), or (c) no instructions regarding the components of the stimuli. Both age groups showed an ability to vary their attention to the secondary feature in accord with the instructions. However, the 8-year-olds showed greater flexibility in tht they employed a type of attentional trading--withdrawing attention from the dominant shape component in exchange for increased attention to color. Experiment 2 replicated conditions (b) and (c) above with 5-, 9- and 12-year-olds and also included a condition requiring attention to both stimulus components. Again, only children beyond age 5 tended to withdraw attention from the dominant shape component as they increased attention to color. Instructions to attend to both features proved relatively unsuccessful with 5- and 9-year-olds and were accommodated with only moderate success by 12-year-olds. In Experiment 3 the latter instructions, applied to stimuli with spatially separated components, were accommodated quite successfully by 9-yearolds although not by 6-year-olds. Active attention to two components are spatially separate and can readily be viewed as independent entities. However, purposeful attention to two integrated features is believed to require additional analytic abilities which do not develop until a later age. (33pp.)

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