Using Representations: Comprehension and Production of Actions with Imagined Objects

Authors

  • Anne Watson O'Reilly

    Corresponding author
    1. West Virginia University
      Please address correspondence to Anne Watson O'Reilly, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 6040, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, 26506-6040.
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  • This paper is based on a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. This research was supported by a University of Michigan Psychology Department Predoctoral Fellowship and a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. A portion of the results was presented at the meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Seattle, April 1991. Many thanks to the undergraduates at the University of Maryland and to the children, parents, and staffs of the University of Michigan Children's Center and the University of Maryland Center for Young Children who volunteered their participation; to J. Byrnes for his assistance as faculty supervisor during data collection at the University of Maryland; to H. Schweingruber and B. Liller for their help in reliability coding; to M. H. Bornstein, J. Genevro, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript; to O. M. Haynes for advice on statistical analysis; and to the members of my dissertation committee, M. Shatz, chair, H. Buchtel, S. Gelman, M. Perry, and E. Sulzby for their advice about the research and comments on the manuscript.

Please address correspondence to Anne Watson O'Reilly, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 6040, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, 26506-6040.

Abstract

Previous research suggests that young children have difficulty producing actions with imagined objects (pantomimes): They frequently substitute a body part to represent the object involved in the action. This response has also been observed in neurologically impaired adults. Study 1 examined the comprehension and production of pantomimes in 3- and 5-year-old children and normal adults to explore further this aspect of representational ability. Results indicate that young children not only have difficulty producing imaginary object representations in contrast to normal adults, they also have difficulty comprehending imaginary object representations and are better at comprehending pantomimes with a body part representation. The results from the pantomime comprehension task were replicated in Study 2 with 3- and 4-year-olds. These findings are discussed in the context of the development of representational ability as children demonstrate increasing independence from concrete environmental support in their knowledge about actions.

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