Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology


Phyllis A. Katz

Committee Members

Joseph Glick

Barry Gholson

Subject Categories

Educational Psychology


Selective learning patterns of children were investigated using incidental learning methodology. Since incidental, in contrast to intentional learning occurs in the absence of instructions which prepare the subject for later retention tests, a subject has relatively more freedom to choose to attend to and learn only a portion of the presented information (thus exercising selectivity). Previous research suggested that selectivity seemed to increase or decrease with development in relation to different incidental learning paradigms. For studies in which incidental stimuli were presented without a concurrent intentional task (Type 1) incidental learning increased with age indicating decreased selectivity. For studies in which incidental stimuli were presented with a simultaneous intentional task (Type 2) incidental learning remained stable or decreased with age, while concurrent intentional learning increased, indicating increased selectivity. The purpose of the present study was to delineate developmental processes associated with these seemingly divergent trends. In addition, children's selective learning of stimuli corresponding to different developmental levels of cognitive representation had been seriously neglected in the literature. Most investigations employed unrelated stimuli which necessitated rote processes for recall. It was also the purpose of this study to determine the influence of stimulus representation upon children's selective learning.

Based upon theory (development of conceptual representation) and empirical trends, it was hypothesized that older children are more flexible in exercising selectivity than younger children. Thus, learning patterns of older but not younger children were expected to be significantly modified by instructional and stimulus variation. To test this hypothesis, a three-way factorial design was employed. The factors were: (a) type of instruction (Type 1 vs. 2), (b) stimulus representation (conceptually-, perceptually- or unrelated), and (c) developmental level (first- and sixth-graders).

Subjects were 168 white, middle class children who were randomly assigned to experimental conditions. An equal number of first- and sixth-grade girls and boys were employed.

Eight pairs of colored pictures were presented in each condition. The same stimuli were used in all conditions, but were paired conceptually, perceptually or in unrelated manner.

In the Type 1 condition subjects were instructed to look at the pictures but were not informed that they would receive later retention tasks. In the Type 2 condition subjects were instructed to look at all stimuli and to remember the top member of each pair for later retention. Free recall and matching of pairs tasks were administered following stimulus exposure to determine the influence of instructions and stimulus representation on learning.

Results revealed that selective learning patterns of both age groups were significantly and similarly modified by instructions and stimuli. Incidental learning was significantly superior for subjects in Type 1 compared to those in Type 2 conditions, while learning of the top (intentional—Type 2) stimulus was significantly superior for subjects in Type 2 compared to those in Type 1 conditions. Relative proportions of intentional (top) to total stimulus recall were not significantly different between the grades. Matching performance of subjects in perceptual conditions was significantly superior to that of subjects in conceptual conditions, whose matching was significantly superior to that of subjects in unrelated stimulus conditions. Developmental differences were related to the level rather than the pattern of retention. Type 1 instructions enhanced sixth-graders’ free recall of incidental stimuli and pairs to a significantly greater extent than for first-graders, while Type 2 conditions enhanced first-graders' total stimulus recall to a significantly greater degree than for sixth-graders.

Selectivity did not increase or decrease with age but was related to experimental conditions for all subjects. The resulting developmental differences indicated that relatively nonstructured conditions enhanced older subjects' recall to a greater extent relative to younger subjects, while younger subjects' recall was facilitated by relatively structured conditions compared to older subjects. Production deficiency and/or retrieval inefficiencies of younger relative to older children are processes advanced to explain the developmental differences. The similarity of younger and older children's use of representation is discussed, as well as the influence of Type 1 and 2 designs on selective learning patterns. A definition of selectivity which accounts for components rather than total amount of learning is proposed.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.