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Becoming Symbol-Minded

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ABSTRACT: Every society has a wealth of symbols and symbol systems that all children must master to participate fully in their society. In the process of learning to use symbolic objects such as pictures, models, and replica objects, infants and young children experience a surprising amount of difficulty. Often they fail to appreciate the distinction between symbols and their referents, behaving toward symbolic artifacts as if they were the objects they stand for. The extended process of becoming symbol-minded begins in the first year of life, as infants start to learn about the nature of pictures; through experience, they discover both what pictures are and what they are not. Slightly older children have substantial difficulty understanding and using scale models, but rapidly come to appreciate the nature and use of this type of symbol. Mastery of these different types of symbolic objects involves developmental progress in multiple domains.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE : Judy DeLoache is the William R. Kennan, Jr. Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. The primary focus of her research is the emergence and early development of the understanding and use of symbolic objects, including pictures and models. Professor DeLoache is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, and the American Psychological Association. She has been a Visiting Scholar in the Psychology Departments of Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and New York University, as well as Fellow in residence at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto and at the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy.

This talk is part of the Psychology & Education series.

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