Implicit Memory and Metacognition

By Lynne M. Reder | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Strategy Choices Across the Life Span

Robert S. Siegler Karen E. Adolph Patrick Lemaire Carnegie Mellon University

One of the most striking characteristics of human cognition is its variability. Both children and adults often possess multiple strategies, rules, concepts, and theories that they use to think about a given phenomenon or solve a given type of problem. For example, in such diverse domains as arithmetic, spelling, serial recall, and moral reasoning, children know and use multiple strategies. Recent trial-by-trial analyses have shown that the variability is present even in domains that have given rise to classic stage theories. Thus, when 5-year-olds are presented number conservation problems, they not only judge on the basis of the relative lengths of the rows, as stated in Piaget's theory and virtually all developmental psychology textbooks, but also sometimes rely on the type of transformation and other times rely on the results of counting ( Siegler, 1995).

This variability is not just a cognitive curio, something that is true but without further ramifications. Rather, it appears to influence both performance and learning. With regard to performance, the greater the number of relevant rules, strategies, or conceptualizations that an individual can apply to a task, the more finely the person can fit the one they use on a particular occasion to task and situational demands. For example, in a study of preschoolers' arithmetic, children who already occasionally used the min strategy (counting from the larger addend) were able to solve more challenging problems than they had previously encountered (e.g., 2 + 21), whereas children who had not yet discovered the strategy were unable to adapt to the challenges posed by such problems and simply said

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