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Is perseveration caused by inhibition failure? Evidence from preschool children's inferences about word meanings


Four studies examined the relation between children's cognitive inhibition and flexibility in a lexical inference task. Children's linguistic flexibility was assessed by the Flexible Induction of Meaning (FIM) test (Deák, 2000a), which requires that children shift inferences about the meanings of several words for novel objects. In Study 1, 54 3-year-olds either were trained between blocks of problems, for a delay of 3 min, or received no training or delay. Training delays did not influence perseveration. In Study 2 (N=723- and 4-year-olds') novel word problems were grouped either to increase the frequency of cue switches (i.e., reduce response "set") or minimize the interval between problems about the same objects. Again, no effect was found. In Study 3, 48 3- and 4-year-olds completed 6 preliminary trials; in a high interference group these trials generated a response set to be inhibited upon the first switch to a new cue context. This group did not perseverate more than a control group. There was no association between FIM perseveration and a Stroop-like test of verbal inhibition though both were marginally related to receptive vocabulary. In study 4 (483- and 4-year-olds), FIM was again unrelated to Stroop performance, but was related to the ability to tell whether a situation or problem is indeterminate. Thus, flexibility across semantic inferences is not influenced by timing, order, and number of pre-switch problems and is not predicted by individual differences in a test of verbal inhibition. However previously reported age and individual differences in flexible induction of word meanings are robust and related to vocabulary and logical ability. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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