Cognitive flexibility in preschoolers: the role of representation activation and maintenance


  • Chevalier Nicolas
  • Blaye Agnès

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Preschoolers' lack of cognitive flexibility has often been attributed to perseverative processing. This study investigates alternative potential sources of difficulty such as deficits in activating previously ignored information and in maintaining currently relevant information. In Experiment 1, a new task tapping attentional switching was designed to isolate the difficulty of overriding an initial representation, that is, perseverative processing ('Perseveration' version), and the difficulty of activating a previously ignored representation, that is, activation deficit ('Activation-deficit' version). Three-year-olds' performance suggested that inflexibility may primarily stem from an activation deficit. Control experiments confirmed that the difficulty of the `Activation-deficit' version could not be attributed to the effect of attraction to novelty. In Experiment 2, `distraction' errors, alleged to reflect a failure to maintain a relevant representation, and `perseverative' errors were distinguished. The results highlighted the important role of representation maintenance in flexibility. The present study indicates that preschoolers' lack of cognitive flexibility is multi-determined and prompts us to reconsider the role of perseveration.

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