Symbolic Understanding of Pictures and Written Words Share a Common Source

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Here we examine the hypothesis that symbolic understanding across domains is mediated by a fundamental ‘symbolizing’ ability in young children. We tested 30 children aged 2–4 years on symbolic tasks assessing iconic and non-iconic word-referent and picture-referent understanding and administered standardised tests of symbolic play and receptive language. Children showed understanding of the symbol-referent relation earlier for pictures than written words, and performance within domains was correlated and, importantly, predicted by a marker of general symbolic ability (e.g., pretend play). Performance on picture and written word tasks was also unrelated to language comprehension. Thus, symbolic abilities in specific domains are underpinned by a general symbolizing ability which arises early in development.

Symbolic Understanding of Pictures and Written Words Share a Common Source

in Journal of Cognition and Culture



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    Schematic of (a, c) Experimental and (b, d) Control tasks. Note the same stimuli are used for demonstration purposes (e.g., cup and girl); participants received different stimuli sets for each condition (dog/boy, cup/girl, ball/boat, house/train, apple/pencil, bear/phone, cow/car, cat/book, horse/banana, and fork/chair). Inset: The puppets that created a disturbance. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via
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    Graph of mean scores (possible 0–4) for the Experimental trials (moving word and moving picture) and Control trials (moving unrecognizable word and moving unrecognizable picture).
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    Percentage of children who passed each Moving condition, with a criterion of at least 3/4 correct.

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