Perseveration in Tool Use: A Window for Understanding the Dynamics of the Action-Selection Process
SourceInfancy, 13, 3, (2008), pp. 249-269
Article / Letter to editor
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Two experiments investigated how 3-year-old children select a tool to perform a manual task, with a focus on their perseverative parameter choices for the various relationships involved in handling a tool: the actor-to-tool relation and the tool-to-target relation (topology). The first study concerned the parameter value for the tool-to-target relation by asking how children use a cane for either pushing an object further away (exclosure; outside the hook) or pulling an object nearby (enclosure; inside the hook). The second study concerned the parameter value for the hand-to-tool relation by assessing the hand used for grasping a spoon to feed a puppet. Results from both studies showed that on the first trial, choices were driven by task information. However, when the task switched from pulling to pushing or from left hand to right hand, or vice versa, children persevered with the choice they made during the 4 previous trials. Results are discussed in terms of the dynamical field modeling work of Esther Thelen and her colleagues. Our findings underscore Thelen's hypotheses that: (a) the action-selection process is a dynamic affair, affected by multiple influences at different time scales and its own intrinsic dynamics; and (b) that perseverative behavior is a general phenomenon that is neither indicative for a specific period in the development, nor for a particular task. Similarly, we argue that the presence (or absence) of causal understanding emerges from the action-selection process, rather than determining this process.
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