Two routes to cognitive flexibility: Learning and response conflict resolution in the dimensional change card sort task


There are at least two ways in which response conflict can be handled in the mind: dynamic response conflict resolution, which enables conflicting response demands to be resolved on-line, and discrimination learning, which reduces the amount of on-line response conflict that needs to be resolved in context. While under fours are perfectly capable of discrimination learning, they appear to lack the ability to resolve response conflict on-line. They can match their behavior to context in remarkably subtle and sensitive ways when they have learned to do so, but if they have not learned to match a response or a behavior to a context, their inability to handle on-line response conflict is their undoing (for example, in the dimensional change card sort task; DCCS). We present an analysis of how discrimination learning in context might aid children’s performance in the dimensional change card sorting (DCCS) over time. In a training study in which three groups of age matched under fours attempt to complete the DCCS we find that, given appropriate discrimination learning, children are able to flexibly switch between the responses required by the DCCS. Without appropriate discrimination learning, children’s performance is far worse, and when the task contexts are novel, children fail as expected.

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