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Knowledge enrichment and conceptual construction: Which domain-general cognitive mechanisms are required for a three-year-old to learn natural number?

Fielder, Jennifer (2018) Knowledge enrichment and conceptual construction: Which domain-general cognitive mechanisms are required for a three-year-old to learn natural number? University of Bath. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Knowledge acquisition can be quick and easy, formulated in terms of concepts the learner already has (knowledge enrichment), or hard, requiring new representational resources to be created over years (conceptual construction). Previous research suggests knowledge enrichment requires receptive vocabulary, whereas conceptual construction requires executive functions (EFs), namely set-shifting and inhibition. This study investigates whether different domain-general cognitive mechanisms support these two types of knowledge acquisition in a new domain: learning natural number. Fifty-seven three-year-olds were tested on their count procedural knowledge (knowledge enrichment), understanding of the cardinal principle (requiring conceptual construction), receptive vocabulary, fluid IQ, and EFs (working memory, inhibition, set-shifting). Multiple linear regression analyses showed that neither receptive vocabulary, set-shifting nor inhibition predicted count procedural knowledge when controlling for age and other predictor variables, but working memory did. Logistic regression analyses showed that inhibition and exogenous set-shifting significantly predicted understanding of the cardinal principle when controlling for age and receptive vocabulary, as did working memory. The findings suggest that different forms of knowledge enrichment are supported by different cognitive mechanisms (here, working memory and not receptive vocabulary). Secondly, set-shifting and inhibition may have a role in conceptual construction, but this did not remain significant when controlling for all other predictor variables, unlike previous research. Finally, count procedural knowledge was the strongest, and only, significant predictor of cardinal principle understanding when including all predictors variables in the regression. The findings contribute theoretically to the field of knowledge acquisition in a new domain and set the stage for future research.

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