Date of Degree

6-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Patricia J. Brooks

Committee Members

Sarah E Berger

Jennifer Wagner

Joan Lucariello

Laraine McDonough

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology

Keywords

representational thought, temporal cognition, diachronic thinking, behavioral prediction, language, middle childhood

Abstract

The ability to represent and make sense of time requires the mental representations of the ordering of events and temporal relations, abstract time concepts, natural biological rhythms, the self and other through time, and causal relationships. This representational ability undergoes significant refinement in middle childhood concurrent with advances in children’s language and nonverbal skills. This study explored the representational development of temporal cognition, diachronic thinking, and behavioral prediction in relation to a battery of language and nonverbal abilities with the aims of confirming age-related improvements, exploring whether disparate measures are indices of an underlying ability, and examining the role of language and nonverbal abilities.

Sixty-two children (32 girls, 30 boys, M=8 years; 2 months, range 6;0-10;8) completed standardized assessments of receptive vocabulary, receptive grammar, reading, nonverbal intelligence, and working memory, in addition to the four representational thought tasks. The temporal cognition tasks consisted of the Months Relative Order task, assessing event ordering ability (e.g., knowledge of the sequence of months), and the Time Labeling task, assessing knowledge of conventional time patterns (e.g., day or month associated with specific events). The diachronic thinking task, Draw Lifecycle of a Tree, assessed awareness of biological change over time and the behavioral prediction task, Character Intentions task (a measure of theory of mind adapted here to assess the ability to predict future behaviors) assessed children’s understanding of causality in time to infer a character’s future actions.

The first aim was supported providing confirmation of the age-related improvements in representational thought documented in previous research. Results revealed that accuracy on the Months Relative Order, Time Labeling, Draw Lifecycle of a Tree, and Character Intentions tasks improved with age; however, the Draw Lifecycle of a Tree task was only marginally significant. The second and third aims of the study was to explore whether the four disparate measures of representational were significantly related and if they provided evidence of an underlying ability. All tasks were significantly correlated with one another after controlling for the effects of age. Principal components analysis revealed one underlying factor explaining 57.84% of the variance across tasks. To address the final aim, stepwise regressions explored relationships between this latent variable and developmental changes in nonverbal intelligence, working memory, and language ability. Results revealed that language ability predicted gains in representational thought over and above effects of age, nonverbal intelligence, and working memory. Additionally, mediation analyses showed that the effects of age, nonverbal intelligence, and working memory were mediated by language abilities. These results extend prior work by demonstrating the representational changes occurring in middle childhood across complex cognitive domains while highlighting the role of language as a mechanism promoting representational development.

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