Pre-exposure and learning in young children: Evidence of latent inhibition?

AbstractPrevious research by Kaniel & Lubow in 1986 found that young children (aged 4-5 years) exhibited poorer learning (latent inhibition) to pre-exposed stimuli than older children (aged 7-10 years). The aim of our research was to develop a computer-based, child-friendly study that would replicate the work of Kaniel & Lubow. Sixty-three children took part in our experiment. This consisted of a pre-exposure/study phase in which participants were asked to press computer keys in response to clipart pictures of animals and dinosaurs. Each animal or dinosaur picture was preceded by one of two “warning signals” which acted as the pre-exposed stimuli (to which no response was required). In the test phase that followed, the participants had to either press the spacebar or withhold their response to each pre-exposed stimulus and two novel stimuli. They learnt which response was correct by trial and error using the feedback provided. The accuracy and reaction time of the responses during the test phase were analysed and indicated that the youngest children showed significantly lower mean accuracy and longer mean response times to the pre-exposed stimuli than to stimuli they had not been pre-exposed to. In contrast, the older children showed no significant differences in their responses to pre-exposed and novel stimuli. These results are consistent with those found by Kaniel & Lubow and could be taken as evidence for latent inhibition in young children. Further studies are proposed in which variations in pre-exposure procedure are used to rule out explanations based on response inhibition or negative priming.

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