Choice behavior as a function of memory in preschool children Public Deposited


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  • The purpose of this study was to investigate the memory factors associated with preschoolers' performance in a two-choice, uncertain outcome decision situation. Choice behavior was examined under two conditions: one, (NMA), in which the child was required to rely on his memory to establish an appropriate prediction of the occurrence of two events; and one (MA), in which the child was provided with a visual record of events as they actually occurred, which he might scan in order to establish an appropriate prediction. Five major hypotheses were tested: 1. Childrens stable-state strategies will not differ in the MA vs. the NMA condition for either sex. 2. Children of both sexes will make a smaller proportion of errors in arriving at a stable-state strategy in the memory aid condition vs. the non-memory aid condition. 3. Children of both sexes will stabilize earlier in the series in the memory aid condition vs. those in the non-memory aid condition. 4. The proportion of children who stabilize at a level higher than the common median for the two event distributions will be larger in the 75:25 event condition than in the 65:35 event condition; the proportion will not differ for boys and girls, but will be significantly greater than the proportion expected by chance. 5. There is no difference in the predicted and observed stable-state strategies of subjects for either sex within memory conditions. The sample used for the comparison consisted of 39 middle-class preschool children chosen on the basis of availability. Subjects were randomly assigned to all experimental conditions in an effort to control for bias due to individual differences, practice, and order effects. The apparatus was a pegboard with 106 holes. The two events were defined by the position of a peg in the board, an "up" position or a "down" position. The occurrence of the two events was determined by one of eight random schedules. The subjects served as their own controls across the memory conditions. The data for the first, third, fourth and fifth hypotheses were in the form of p values, the proportion in which the subject chose the most frequently occurring event. The data for the second hypothesis were subjects' errors in choices of the events as they actually occurred in the first 80 "learning" trials. The first hypothesis, which predicted that subjects would perform at a higher level when provided with a memory aid, was not tenable as the data were found to support the alternative hypothesis that subjects without the memory aid exhibited a more adequate performance. Girls performing without the memory aid exhibited a higher stable-state performance than when they were provided with a memory aid. For boys, stable-state behavior in the two memory conditions did not differ. The test of the second hypothesis, which pertained to accuracy of performance, showed that proportion of errors across the first 80 trials was similar for both sexes, whether or not a memory aid was provided. The third hypothesis, regarding rate of learning, was untestable since none of the experimental groups stabilized. The learning curves generated from the median data indicated that learning did occur in the early part of the task and that in the final block of trials, performance deteriorated in the memory aid condition and improved in the non-memory aid condition in relation to the level achieved midway through the task. Results from the test of hypothesis four, used to determine whether or not children employed probability rules in selecting the more frequent event in the stable-state, indicate that subjects did not change in performance in the 75:25 event distribution in relation to their performance in the 65:35 event distribution. This was the case whether or not a memory-aid was provided. In fact, only three of the experimental groups performed at a level better than chance, all of which were performances in the non-memory aid condition; all memory aid performances plus the performance of the boys in the non-memory aid 75:25 event distribution failed to exceed chance performance. The quantitative test of the Siegel mathematical model of choice behavior, provided through hypothesis five, indicated that the model's predictions of stable-state strategies did not differ significantly from the observed stable-state strategies for any of the groups in either memory condition. That is, the Siegel model allowed for quantitatively accurate predictions of stable-state choice behavior of both sexes in this preschool sample, whether or not a memory aid was provided. The discrepancy in performance found in favor of the non-memory aid condition was tentatively explained in terms of the inability of preschoolers to use the complex information made available through the memory aid and in terms of the concept of utility of variability. The fact that only three quarters of the subjects performed at a better than chance level (and these only in the non-memory aid condition) severely limited the information yielded by the study and the comparisons that could be made with other studies. In general, the results are consistent with the findings of Weir's 1967 study in which a memory aid was used in conjunction with reinforcement. The study points up the need for further investigation of memory factors as they relate to probability learning, asymptotic performance and an adequate memory aid, with regard to choice behavior of preschool children.
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