Discrimination Learning Sets in Children

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Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This study investigated the relationship between the formation of discrimination learning set and children's ability to use logical thinking as indicated by verbalization of the rule of the problem. Twenty-seven seven-year-olds and 27 nine-year-olds, all females, within the average IQ range, were presented four-trial object discrimination problems as a game. Each child was presented 20 problems per day for one to three days until she reached the criterion of two successive problems in which no error was made on trials 2, 3, and 4 of both problems. After every ten problems the experimenter asked the subject questions to determine whether she could state the rule of the game. Stimuli were three-dimensional geometric designs of various colors presented in a Modified Wisconsin Testing Apparatus. Subjects collected marbles as tokens and later exchanged them for a prize.

Age was not a statistically significant factor in the rate of learning set acquisition. The mean problems to criterion was 24 for seven-year-olds and 22 for nine-year-olds. The differences in the rates of acquisition of subjects stating the rule and not stating the rule was statistically significant. The mean problems to criterion was 18 for rule subjects and 27 for non-rule subjects. For both groups learning set development did not show until the problem on which criterion was met. This is inconsistent with traditionally defined learning set as involving a gradual increase in performance, but indicates that learning set can be quickly formed.

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