Event Knowledge: Structure and Function in Development

Event Knowledge: Structure and Function in Development

Event Knowledge: Structure and Function in Development

Event Knowledge: Structure and Function in Development

Excerpt

Um, we get a cart, uh, and we look for some onions and plums and cookies and tomato sauce, onions and all that kind of stuff, and when we're finished we go to the paying booth, and um, then we, um, then the lady puts all our food in a bag, then we put it in the cart, walk out to our car, put the bags in our trunk, then leave.

This report from a 5-year-old child about "what happens" when you go grocery shopping is illustrative of the data gathered in our investigation of young children's event knowledge. Although mundane in themselves, such reports provided us with unanticipated discoveries about children's knowledge of the real world, how that knowledge is structured, and how it functions in children's thinking. As a case in point, in the example above the information is presented in a general form, in a coherent temporal sequence, and contains "slots" ("all that kind of stuff"), roles ("the lady"), and possible "slot fillers" (different foods). The characteristics of generality, temporal sequence, and categorical (i.e., slot filler) structure were all unexpected on the basis of models of young children's thinking current at the time we began this research in the mid-1970s.

We first undertook this project because we were interested in certain phenomena of cognitive development in early childhood. In particular, like a number of other investigators a decade or so ago, we were struck by the discrepancy between young children's apparent competence in everyday activities and their apparent incompetence on certain cognitive tasks. In the former domain one could observe complex language use and impressive memory and reasoning skills, whereas in the latter one found that preschoolers performed poorly on experimental tasks assessing classification, memory, logical problem solving, and even language. Donaldson (1978) provides a good overview of observations of both types and a discussion of their implications.

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