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Abstract

The dimensional change card-sorting task (DCCS task) is frequently used to assess young children's executive abilities. However, the source of children's difficulty with this task is still under debate. In the standard DCCS task, children have to sort, for example, test cards with a red cherry or a blue banana into two boxes marked with target cards showing a blue cherry and a red banana. Typically, 3-year-olds have severe problems switching from sorting by one dimension (e.g. color) to sorting by the other dimension (e.g. shape). Three experiments with 3- to 4-year-olds showed that separating the two dimensions as properties of a single object, and having them characterize two different objects (e.g. by displaying an outline of a cherry next to a red filled circle on the card) improves performance considerably. Results are discussed in relation to a number of alternative explanations for 3-year-olds’ difficulty with the DCCS task.