What Good is Pretending? Adding a Pretense Context to the Dimensional Change Card Sort
Toub, Tamara Robin Spiewak
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During the preschool years, children's pretend play increases in frequency and sophistication. Besides the joy obtained from these experiences, there might be benefits regarding children's social, emotional, and cognitive development. Prior literature shows both theoretical and empirical support for a relation between pretense and executive function (EF), in particular. Given the role of EF skills in childhood and beyond, this research focused specifically on the potential for pretense-based strategies to facilitate better EF performance for preschoolers. The primary aim was to investigate the effect of adding a pretense context to the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS), a conflict-based EF task (Zelazo, 2006). In Study 1, 96 preschoolers (ages 40-47 months) were assigned to either a Fantasy Planet condition or a modified Standard condition, which did not involve pretense. In the Fantasy Planet condition, the experimenter encouraged children to pretend to travel to imaginary planets (Planet Shape and Planet Color) during the shape and color phases of the DCCS. Even after controlling for age, boys in the Fantasy Planet condition were better able to make the switch from the shape rule to the color rule (or vice versa) than were boys in the modified Standard condition. This facilitative effect of the manipulation was not found for girls. Exploratory examination of data from secondary tasks did not explain these results. Study 2 was then designed to address two main questions: (1) What was it about the Fantasy Planet condition that facilitated better performance (for boys)? and (2) Why was this effect limited to boys? For this study, 64 preschoolers (ages 43-46 months) were assigned to either a Pretend Playground condition or a Non-Pretense Control condition. These conditions were designed to address specific alternative explanations from Study 1 and to incorporate a more gender-neutral theme for the pretense-based condition. Results from Study 2 showed no differences in DCCS performance based on sex, condition, or their interaction. Possible explanations for the set of the two studies' results are discussed. Among the suggestions for further research is the incorporation of a manipulation that involves a deeper pretense experience than what was adopted in these studies.
- Psychology