- Concepts involve group together different entities on the basis of some similarity.
- They allow us to organize our experience into coherent patterns and draw inferences in
situations in which we lack direct experience.
- We apply previous knowledge to new situations.
- The tendency to form concepts is a basic characteristic of human beings.
- The development of conceptual representations in general is based on the assumption that the
nature of people’s minds leads them to represent most or all concepts in a particular way.
- The nature of this representation is of primary interest; the details of the particular concepts are
- Representational Developmental Hypothesis:
- Certain concepts, time, space, number, living things, are so basic to our understanding of the
world that their development is importantn in its own right.
- Understanding of basic concepts changes dramatically during development but their core seems
to be part of our inheritance as human beings.
Conceptual Representations in General:
- How do people represent concepts? Three main possibilities.
Defining Features representations—dictionary definitions. Include only the necessary and
sufficient features that determine whether an example is or not an instance of the concept.
Probabilistic Representations- articles in encyclopedias. Represent concepts in terms of a
large number of properties that are somewhat, but not perfectly, correlated with the
Theory Based Representations- like chapters in a science book. Emphasize casual relations
among elements of a system.
Defining Features Representations:
- Knowing the concepts’ necessary and sufficient features.
- Use these features to determine whether particular examples were instances of the concept. - Piaget- believed children couldn’t form defining features representations largely on
observations of children playing with objects.
- Found that older children divide objects into categories with a defining feature: animals,
vehicles, dolls, etc.
Dogs and car (dog likes car) cat and chair (cat likes chair)
Piaget concluded that preoperational stage children’s concepts were thematic—organizes in
terms of a common activity or theme.
Concrete Operations: children’s concepts are taxonomic—Organized in terms of
hierarchically organized categories, like those used to classify plants and animals in biology.
Vygotsky: children grouped all the red blocks together, all yellow etc.
CHAIN CONCEPTS: concepts in which the basis of classification changed from example to example.
- Children pass through three stages of conceptual development.
1. Very early they form thematic concepts—stressing relations between particular pairs of
2. Chain concepts—by momentarily classifying on the basis of abstract dimensions. Colour,
shape. But forgetting what they were doing and switching the basis of their categorization.
3. Elementary school—forming true concepts, based on stable, necessary, and suffiecient
- Preschoolers sort objects according to how they interact, rather than their categorical relations.
They find different relations of interest than do adults.
- Preschoolers who short objects thematically could explain the taxonomic relations as well.
- There is flexible use of both thematic and taxonomic categories in preschoolers.
- Their tendency to use one type of concept or the other depends on the context in which the
task is presented, or on the nature of the task instructions.
- There is underestimating the role of specific content knowledge in conceptual understanding.
- Young children represent some concepts in terms of defining features, they do not know what
the defining features are for many other concepts.
9 year olds emphasize the defining feature
However, both younger and older children can form defining features representations, but
knowledge about the defining features of particular concepts increases with age. Probabilistic Representations:
- Adults and children represent most concepts in terms of probabilistic relations between the
concept and various features: rather than in terms of a few defining features.
- Most concepts are united by family resemblances rather than by defining features.
- The instances resemble each other to varying degrees and in varying ways, but there is no set of
features that all of them possess.
- Four powerful ideas of Rosch and Mervis’ Theory:
1. Cue validities:
- How might children decide wether objects are examples of one concept or another?
- They compare cue validities.
- The degree to which the presence of a feauture makes it likely that an object is an example of a
concept depends on the frequency with which the feature accompanies that concept and on the
infrequency with which the feature accompanies other concepts.
- Flight is a highly valid cue for an object’s being a bird.
- Probabilistic approach suggests that objects perceived as better examples are ones whose
features have higher cue validities for that concept. Robins are better example of a bird than
ostriches. Colour, size, ability to fly are more valid cues to their being birds.
- The cues that people consider in forming concepts change over development.
- Infants’ categories are not limited to ones based soley on perceptual features.
- In first year of life, infants have knowledge about causal and functional attributes of objects that
they can use to guide their categorization.
2. Basic Level Categories:
- Many categories are hierarchical. All instances of one category are necessarily instances of
- Hierarchical typically includes three levels:
1. General – superordinate level
Chair: furniture, some have legs and some don’t.
2. A specific one – Subordinate level
Chair: “kitchen chairs”
3. Middling gerneality – basic level.—Cue validities are maximized.
- Chair: legs, back seat.
- Basic level categories are more fundamental classifications than either superordinate or
- Children learn basic before superordinate or subordinate categories.
Correlations among features: - Conceptual understanding involves more than knowing the cue validities of indivual features.
- Correlations among features are at least as essential.
Prototypes: they are the most representative instances of concepts. The examples that have the highest
- Infants as young as three months abstract prototypical forms.
- In the first year, infant’s abstract prototypical patterns, form basic level categories and notice
cue validities and correlations among features.
- With development:
- they form increasing numbers of super ordinate and subordinate levels of categories
- move from child basic to standard basic categories
- become sensitive to more complex and subtle Correlational patterns.
This approach does not specific how children determine which features of unfamiliar objects
and events they should encode and which they should ignore.
Determining which features to encode is difficult.
Unless children encode the important features and relations, they can’t learn their cue
Theory based Representaions:
- There is more to concepts than correlations among features or defining features.
- They embody theoretical beliefs about the world and the relations of entities to each other.
- These beliefs influence our reactions to new information
1. Most concepts are partial theories. They include explanations of relations among their parts
and their relations to other concepts.
2. Theories are complexly tied to people’s associative knowledge: they don’t stand apart from
3. Causal relations are basic within these theories. They are more useful than other types of
4. Hierarchical relations also are informative.
Children posses theoretical understand that allow them to go beyond defining features and
probabilistically related features to explain WHY the world is the way it is. There is a relation between associative knowledge and theoretical beliefs, answers reflects
both specific memories and an informal theory of how things work.
- Theoretical understanding is present in concepts of young/older children and adults.
Understanding is not the same at all ages.
The accuracy and interconnectedness of the theoretical belifs, as well as the frequency with
which they are relied on, increase with development.
- Keil hypothesized that at all ages, concepts include:
1. Theoretical connections
2. Isolated factual information.
- As theories become more sophisticated, they explain an increasingly broad range of the factual
- CORE THEORIES.
Wellman/Gelman: children are predisposed to develop 3 core theories:
1. Inanimate Objects (naïve physics)
2. Living Things (naïve biology)
3. Human mind (naïve psychology)
- Core theories organize their knowledge about the world and help them in acquiring additional
- Spelke: children begin life with a theory of physics. Includes the knowledge that the world is
mostly composed of physical objects that are :
2. have boundaries,
4. move only when touched by another object,
5. move in continuous ways
- First theory of psychology emerges around 18 months (Gelman/Wellman).
- First theory of biology (2-3 years)
Development of Some Particularly Important Concepts:
- Concept includes experiential and logical aspects.
Experimental: our subjective experience of the order and duration of events.
Logical Time: properties that can be deduced through reasoning. An event that starts later
and ends earlier than another must have taken a shorter time.
- Infants in first year notice order.
- Photos being shown in sequences, left to right helps babies understand and encode order of
events. - By 12 months, able to imitate sequences of two actions in the correct order: understanding of
temporal order is well established in the first year.
- By 5 years children can estimate durations up to 30 seconds accurately.
- Older children get better at counting to help them estimate intervals.
- Not until age 9 do children judge accurately which event is most recent when important events
occurred more than 60 days earlier. (Birthday and Christmas in the past 60 days)
- Understanding of durations in the future is a greater challenge.
- Hard for 4 year olds to understand the events that will occur in the near future compared to
events in distant future.
- In early elementary children learn months, weeks, years etc and begin to play a role in their
judgements of future events.