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Effects of Stimulus Highlighting and Variation in Number of Trialson Children's Incidental Learning

Hale, Gordon A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Age Differences, Attention, Cognitive Development, Elementary School Students, Learning, Memory, Performance Factors, Pictorial Stimuli, Responses


Children aged 8 and 12 years performed a task requiring attention to the "relevant" element in each of several two-element stimuli, then were tested for memory of the second, or "incidental" element in each stimulus. Highlighting the relevant element (i.e., circling the element in red) lowered the amount of incidental information acquired. However, highlighting failed to alter the basic developmental result--an increase with age in performance on the initial task but a decrease in incidental recall. As in previous studies, the latter result is believed to reflect a developmental improvement in children's selective attention to task-relevant information. Since highlighting was designed to facilitate the initial discrimination of relevant from incidental material, the data support the view that this initial discrimination process is not a key factor in the developmental trend toward greater selectivity in attention.In another comparison, the developmental results were found to be the same whether the initial task consisted of 2 or 6 trials; thus, older children's superiority in attention deployment is evident from the outset of a task and, contrary to the author's earlier view, does not become more pronounced as the task progresses. (13pp.)

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