Children's preference for novelty in selective learning: Developmental stability or change?

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Data relating novelty preference to age for normal children are inconsistent, although a current theory predicts a developmental shift from novelty to familiarity preference in selective learning (D. Zeaman, 1976, in T. J. Tighe & R. N. Leaton (Eds.), Habituation: Perspectives from child development, animal behavior, and neurophysiology (pp. 297-320), Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum). Support for this theory, however, has been derived primarily from studies of retardate learning. Normal children's novelty preference was examined within a modified Moss-Harlow (E. Moss & H. F. Harlow, 1947, Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 40, 333-342) design to compare Zeaman's model with that of S. L. Witryol and W. Wanich (1983, The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 143, 3-8). Each of 16 problems, consisting of three single-stimulus demonstration trials and one two-choice test, was administered to 180 children (mean CA 4, 5.5, and 7 years) in three reward conditions. Novelty was manipulated by varying stimulus familiarization in the demonstration trials. Experiment 1 showed strong preferences for novel over familiar (demonstrated) stimuli at each age. Experiment 2 revealed novelty preference across age levels, two levels of reward contrast, and two levels of task difficulty. It was reasoned that Moss-Harlow tasks designed for normal children typically present a much higher level of difficulty than that intended by researchers. Furthermore, developmental decreases in novelty preference by retardates may derive from (a) transfer of training from prior experiments and (b) specific, repetitive instructions which may have directed attention away from stimulus novelty. © 1985.




Valenti, S. S. (1985). Children’s preference for novelty in selective learning: Developmental stability or change? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 40(3), 406–419.

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