Children's Strategies for Interpreting Complex Comparative Questions

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Fifty-four children aged between 3 and 6 were asked questions such as 'Which box is Xer than it is Z?,' where Xer was taller, shorter, fatter, or thinner and Z was tall or fat, in the context of five rectangles of varying dimensions. For most questions, the largest rectangle was chosen most often as an answer, regardless of the adjectives used. The older children often chose the Xest rectangle in the array, indicating interpretation of only the first clause of the question. After providing feedback on incorrect answers for the five-year-old children, a post-test showed a decrease in frequency of choices of the largest rectangle, no change in frequency of choices of the Xest rectangle, and, for some questions, an increase in the frequency of choices of the correct rectangle. The results are interpreted to mean that the linguistic strategy of attending to the first clause is more resistant to change than the more primitive non-linguistic preference for choosing the largest object without interpreting the sentence.



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