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Abstract

The present study tested the alternative hypotheses that the poor performance of the intuitive and transitional students on the concept acquisition tasks employed in the Lawson et al. (1991) study was due either to their failure (a) to use deductive reasoning to test potentially relevant task features, as suggested by Lawson et al. (1991); (b) to identify potentially relevant features; or (c) to derive and test a successful problem-solving strategy. To test these hypotheses a training session, which consisted of a series of seven concept acquisition tasks, was designed to reveal to students key task features and the deductive reasoning pattern necessary to solve the tasks. The training was individually administered to students (ages 5–14 years). Results revealed that none of the five- and six-year-olds, approximately half of the seven-year-olds, and virtually all of the students eight years and older responded successfully to the training. These results are viewed as contradictory to the hypothesis that the intuitive and transitional students in the Lawson et al. (1991) study lacked the reasoning skills necessary to identify and test potentially relevant task features. Instead, the results support the hypothesis that their poor performance was due to their failure to use hypothetico-deductive reasoning to derive an effective strategy. Previous research is cited that indicates that the brain's frontal lobes undergo a pronounced growth spurt from about four years of age to about seven years of age. In fact, the performance of normal six-year-olds and adults with frontal lobe damage on tasks such as the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST), a task similar in many ways to the present concept acquisition tasks, has been found to be identical. Consequently, the hypothesis is advanced that maturation of the frontal lobes can explain the striking improvement in performance at age seven. A neural network of the role of the frontal lobes in task performance based upon the work of Levine and Prueitt (1989) is presented. The advance in reasoning that presumably results from effective operation of the frontal lobes is seen as a fundamental advance in intellectual development because it enables children to employ an inductive-deductive reasoning pattern to change their minds when confronted with contradictory evidence regarding features of perceptible objects, a skill necessary for descriptive concept acquisition. It is suggested that a further qualitative advance in intellectual development occurs when an analogous pattern of abductive-deductive reasoning is applied to hypothetical objects and/or processes to allow for alternative hypothesis testing and theoretical concept acquisition. Apparently this is the reasoning pattern needed to derive an effective problem-solving strategy to solve the concept acquisition tasks of Lawson et al. (1991) when direct instruction is not provided. Implications for the science classroom are suggested.