Henry M. Wellman
University of Michigan
Susan C. Somerville
Arizona State University
Theories of cognitive development attempt to achieve a general description of the child's transition from immature to well-developed intelligence. In this attempt, current theorizing and thinking have converged upon a problem-solving metaphor. That is, either explicitly or implicitly, cognitive development is explained as the acquisition of increasingly effective, increasingly more general procedures for solving problems. In such accounts, for example, memory development is thought to involve the development of strategies for solving the problem of mentally storing and retrieving information. Language acquisition is seen partly as the child's solution to the problem of inferring the structure of his or her language, given only noisy, imperfect, and relatively unordered examplars to work from. Other classic domains of cognition--e.g., the child's concepts of number, time, causality, and space--can be similarly construed.
Given the prevalence of this metaphor, it is not surprising that the development of problem solving is beginning to receive direct research attention (e.g. Klahr & Robinson, 1981; Siegler, 1981). Since the literature under this heading is still embryonic, we have not tried to review, integrate, and evaluate it here. Instead, we report on an emerging example of problem-solving research which we feel has great promise. The focus of this research is children's search abilities, that is, their abilitites to solve the large variety of real and imaginable problems whose solution is the retrieval of a missing object. The questions here are: How do children search for missing, hidden, or lost objects, and how do these abilities develop with age? For a number of reasons we believe that research on search is a particularly fruitful domain for developmental investiga