ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (12): 1381-1389.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01381

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The development of preschool children’s inductive reasoning about weight: A cross-cultural comparison of Sino-US

WANG Zhidan1,ZHOU Aibao2(),ZHANG Ronghua2,BU Mengjin1,LI Yuwen1,WANG Haijing1,WILLIAMSON Rebecca3   

  1. 1 School of Education Science, Jiangsu Normal University, Xuzhou 221116, China
    2 School of Psychology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China
    3 Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta 30302, USA
  • Received:2017-07-10 Published:2018-12-25 Online:2018-10-30


Weight has been of interest to scientists from early in the study of cognitive development. More recent research indicates that preschool is an important transition period for using weight generally across tasks in the physical domain. For example, 4-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds, can choose a heavy versus a light object to make a balance with an intermediate weight tip and category objects by weight through observing others’ demonstration. In this research, we investigate when American (Study 1) and Chinese children (Study 2) can use verbal labels to make inductive reasoning about weight, and whether this ability is cross-cultural universal.

In Study 1, two- to 6-year-old American children (N = 100) were familiarized with three identical-appearing objects, two of them have one weight, the third one has another weight (e.g., two heavy, one light). The experimenter picked up one object and said “This is a dax.” Children were requested to find another “dax” from the left two objects and give it to the experimenter. If the experimenter label a heavy object, the child chooses the heavy one of the two objects, s/he was scored as a 1. In contrast, if s/he chooses the light one, s/he was scored as a 0. There are two trials, thus, the total scores ranged from 0 to 2. The results indicated that there was a significant effect of age, H (4) = 41.75, p < 0.001. Children’s responses were compared to chance levels and the results suggested that the performance of 4-year-olds (p = 0.004), 5-year-olds (p < 0.001), and 6-year-olds (p < 0.001) was significantly above chance. However, the performance of 3-year-olds (p = 0.16) was not significantly different from chance, the performance of 2-year-olds was marginal significantly below chance (p = 0.055). To sum up, children can successfully pass the task by the age of 4.

In Study 2, we examined whether Chinese children also can use the verbal label to make inductive reasoning about weight by age 4. Three- to 5-year-olds (N = 60) were recruited to participate in the experiment. All the procedures were the same as Study 1 except that: (a) children were tested in their school; (b) two new verbal labels were created to label the objects-"delu" and "peru". The results indicated that the effect of age is significant, H (2) = 18.71, p < 0.001. The performance of 4-year-olds (p < 0.001) and 5-year-olds (p < 0.001) was significantly above chance. However, the performance of 3-year-olds (p = 0.10) was not significantly different from chance.

Overall, this research provides a timeline for the development of children using verbal label in inductive reasoning about invisible weight in the physical domain. At age 4, both American and Chinese children can reliably apply the verbal categorical label to weight. In addition, it appears that age 3 to 4 is an important transition period for solving such task universally despite of cultural difference. The three possible reasons that could account for the developmental difference were discussed. Also discussed were the implications of cognitive development for science education.

Key words: weight, inductive reasoning, invisible property, cross-cultural universal

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