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Transfer by Very Young Children in the Symbolic Retrieval Task


  • The research reported here was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grant HD25271 to the first author, as well as by a grant from the Institute of Educational Sciences, Department of Education, Grant R305H020088, and NIH Training Grant HD07323. It was conducted by the first and third authors at the University of Illinois. We thank Kathy Anderson for her many invaluable contributions to the research.

concerning this article should be addressed to Judy S. DeLoache, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400400, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400. Electronic mail may be sent to


Cumulative experience with a variety of symbolic artifacts has been hypothesized as a source of young children's increasing sensitivity to new symbol-referent relations. Evidence for this hypothesis comes from transfer studies showing that experience with a relatively easy symbolic retrieval task improves performance on a more difficult task. Significant transfer was found for the 2½-year-old children in the 3 studies reported here, even with relatively low levels of contextual support (according to the taxonomy of transfer by Barnett & Ceci, 2002). Transfer occurred even though the 2 tasks were encountered in very different settings and there was a prolonged (1-week) delay interval between them. Transfer also occurred to a much more difficult task (one that even 3-year-olds typically fail).