Children's perceptual organization of hierarchical visual patterns

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Abstract

Children's perceptual organisation of hierarchical patterns was investigated in two experiments through similarity judgements. Previous studies with adults demonstrated that the perceptual relations between the global configuration and the local elements of such patterns depend critically on the number of elements embedded in the pattern: Patterns composed of a few, relatively large elements are perceived in terms of global form and figural parts, whereas patterns composed of many relatively small elements are perceived in terms of global form and texture. In Experiment 1 children at three levels of age (preschoolers, first and third graders) were presented with a standard figure and two comparison figures—a proportional and an un proportional enlargement of the standard. The number of elements in the standard figure was varied. When the number of elements was small, children at all age levels concerned judged the proportional enlargement which preserves the global and local forms as well as the relationship between them as more similar. When the number of elements in the standard figure increased, children switched their preference to the un proportional enlargement which preserves both the global form and the textural properties of the standard figure. When the global configuration and the local elements were pitted against each other (Experiment 2), and the number of elements was rather large, preschoolers and third graders judged the comparison figure having the same global configuration as the standard but composed of different elements as more similar to the standard than the comparison figure having the same elements arranged in a different configuration. Overall, these results are similar to the ones obtained with adults: As far as the perceptual organisation of hierarchical patterns changes as a function of the number of elements for the adult perceiver, it changes also for the young child. These results do not support the hypothesis that young children perceive complex visual stimuli as undifferentiated wholes, as some develop mental researchers have proposed. Furthermore, the finding that for children, as for adults, the elements do not function perceptually as parts when the number of elements is large, implies that fewclement patterns are better candidates for testing hypotheses about the relative priority of wholes and parts across development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-149
JournalEuropean Journal of Cognitive Psychology
Volume2
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1990

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