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Abstract

In the first few years of life, children become increasingly sensitive to the significance of a variety of symbolic artifacts. An extensive body of research has explored very young children's ability to use symbol-based information as a guide to current reality. In one common task, for example, children watch as a miniature toy is hidden in a scale model, and are then asked to retrieve a larger version of the toy from the corresponding place in the room itself. Two-and-a-half-year-old children perform very poorly in most versions of this task. Their most common error is to perseverate; that is, they search again at the location where the toy was last hidden. Two studies examined the degree to which 21/2-year-olds’ high rate of perseveration and poor performance stem from problems with inhibitory control. Results showed that problems with inhibitory control contribute very little to 21/2-year-old children's difficulty with the task. Instead, the results confirm young children's great difficulty appreciating and exploiting symbol–referent relations.