Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph Glick

Committee Members

Colette Daiute

Patricia Brooks

Robert Campbell

Bruce Homer

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Epistemology | Philosophy of Mind | Theory and Philosophy


epistemology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, philosophy of mind


Researchers interested in the development of conceptual knowledge of number have studied children’s behavior in various tasks or other contexts in order to draw conclusions about what they know. The guiding assumption of this work is that the presence or absence of a given form of knowledge is typically reflected in the ability/inability to perform certain types of behavior. Researchers complicate this assumption when they claim that (1) the ability to perform a given behavior may also reflect simple imitation or rote learning in the absence of understanding, and/or (2) that the inability to perform a certain behavior may reflect extraneous performance demands, rather than the absence of unerlying conceptual knowledge. Most problematically, it is not clear how to distinguish these alternative explanations of the relationship between behavior and conceptual knowledge. The difficulty of making this distinction has led to ongoing issues in cognitive development research that have persisted despite researchers’ attempts to resolve them through the ongoing study of children’s behavior.

The current research explores how and whether the issues researchers face in interpreting behavior vis a vis knowledge might be clarified by studying the discursive practices in terms of which these interpretive processes themselves occur. The current study analyzes the discursive functioning of knowledge claims—assertions about what children know, e.g., s/he understands the cardinal principle—in the texts of eleven published research articles on developing conceptual knowledge of number. Therefore, while the goal of this study is to contribute to the general research area of cognitive development, the methodology used in the current study was a discourse analysis. The focus of the analysis is on the strategies and conditions under which knowledge claims are asserted and justified (i.e., claimed to be valid). The results suggest that knowledge claims are descriptions of behavioral dispositions, that are produced in response to the observation of behavior in situations presumed to make that behavior interpretable. The behavioral tasks used by researchers to assess children’s conceptual knowledge function as ways of eliciting concrete instances of the behavior that is described in more general terms by the knowledge claim. The fact that knowledge claims are descriptions of behavior is shown to be obscured by deeply rooted discursive practices that reify knowledge in ways that allow it to be categorically distinguished from behavior. Ironically, the use of this knowledge-behavior distinction in the research reports, and subsequent issues it causes, are parsimoniously explained by the theory that knowledge claims are descriptions of behavioral dispositions, articulated in response to situations that are presumed to allow general interpretations of observed behavior.

The findings of the current research suggest that the entrenched distinction between competence and performance is problematic, and that its use comes at the expense of a clear view of what it means to say that someone knows something. However, these problems may represent growing pains in the development of a new and better conception of knowledge in cognitive psychology.