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32, 279-297 (1981)

Learning from Pictures: the Use of Pictorial Information by Young Children

CATHERINE Depurtment


of Psychology. University of Nottingham

Forty children from 4 to 8 years of age were asked to construct a wooden pyramid from the information contained in a series of nine photographs. A further 30 children attempted the task without pictorial assistance. The provision of pictorial information was associated with a significant improvement in the childrens performance. Although all children made some use of the photographs, when available, the strategies displayed were quite different and these differences related systematically to task performance. In particular girls, from 5 years upward, were quite skillful in exploiting a medium to help them learn how to do a task. Boys derived some information from the pictures but preferred to work more independently. pursuing a trial and error strategy. The absence of sex differences in the nonpicture groups confirms that they can be attributed to differential use of media rather than to the nature of the task per se.


In previous work (Wood & Middleton, 1975; Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976; Wood, Wood, & Middleton, 1978) a three-dimensional construction toy was employed to study the process whereby an adult can most effectively help a preschool-aged child to master a task. Most 3-year-old children were able to learn something about how to do this task from a good instruction session and by 4 years of age, given an efficient teaching strategy, many children were able to learn to do the whole task alone. The central argument underlying these studies is that childrens cognitive development is determined, at least in part, by the way in which others control, help, and talk to them as they grapple with difficulties. A corollary of this proposition is that the scope and flexibility of childrens thinking is also related to their ability to seek out appropriate assistance, whether animate or inanimate, when finding themselves in difficulty. The present study sets out to examine the abilities of children,
Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Catherine M. Murphy, Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, England. This research was supported by grant no. HR 5787/2 from the Social Science Research Council. 279

Copyright 0 1981 by Academic Press. Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.





between 4 and 8 years of age, to construct the same toy using photographs as the sole means of instruction. Our intention, therefore, is to describe the strategies which children use when faced with a self-instruction session. Success depends not on a sympathetic adult interjecting with appropriate assistance at optimum points in the procedure, but rather on the childs own efforts to secure such assistance from static pictorial instruction, on the ability to process this information, and then translate it into action. An examination of the psychological literature on the use of pictures yields two interesting lines of research-work on childrens abilities to match different pictorial representations (summarized and evaluated by Vurpillot, 1976) and cross-cultural studies of the effects of experience on the ability of children to decode diagrams and photographs (see Serpell. 1976, for an overview). The most coherent theoretical treatment of the relationships between child development and the use of pictures is that by Vurpillot. She points out that the number of studies devoted to childrens capacities for processing information is extremely limited. Vurpillots studies suggest that the amount of information extracted from pictures is influenced by the extent of the childs visual exploration but the childs perceptual or representational structure determines what is internalized from such exploration. Thus according to Vurpillot, the more children look the more they see but judgments based on what is seen are nevertheless limited by their stage of cognitive development. Performances by young children on tasks of perceptual differentiation, paired comparison, or discrimination learning are poor and before 6 years of age the child does not possess logical relationships of identity, equivalence, or the ordering of classes; judgments are based on partial equivalences. It is not until between the ages of 6 and 8 that children can reliably compare two pictures or diagrams and judge whether they are identical in all aspects. The demands made upon the children in Vurpillots studies are, however, largely abstract and inactive. The children are required to make mental comparisons, or sort pictures in order to point out or describe differences or similarities in the pictorial information. The children appear to receive little in the way of feedback to guide their observations. Work by Olson (1970), however, also indicates that childrens approaches to an information-processing task show developmental shifts which reflect their changing representational processes. The growth of representation, according to Olson, follows a pattern of an active search strategy at 3 years of age, a pattern matching strategy at 5 years, and finally, at 8 years, the child employs a more efficient information selection strategy. The demands of the task to be presented in the following study provide the children with immediate feedback in the form of their own acts of assembly with the wooden blocks which they can compare with the





pictorial information. Whether the translation of perception into action enhances the childrens capacities for processing information remains to be seen. Judging from the existing evidence it would seem unlikely that children under 7 or 8 years of age will be able to utilize pictorial information sufficiently well to teach themselves how to construct the toy. METHOD Subjects. Forty children were selected at random from schools in predominantly middle-class residential areas. Ten children (five boys, five girls) were assigned to each of four age groups, the mean ages of which were 4 years 6 months, 5 years 6 months, 6 years 9 months, and 8 years 3 months. In order to assess the usefulness of pictorial assistance, a control group of 30 children from three age groups (mean ages: 5 years 7 months, 6 years 8 months, and 8 years 3 months) was asked to construct the pyramid/tower without the assistance of photographs. The nonpicture situation proved too distressing for 4 year olds so this age group was abandoned. The task. The children were asked to construct a wooden pyramid solely from the information contained in nine photographs (see Fig. 1) or from a verbal description of the completed construction. The wooden pyramid consists of 21 blocks which fit together to form six ever decreasing layers. Each layer is made up from four blocks, two of which fit together to form a peg and the other two combine to make a hole. The sixth level is a solid wooden cube. For a more detailed description see Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976). Situation. The series of nine photographs, illustrating critical stages in the construction of the pyramid, were arranged sequentially, from left to right, along a one-way mirror at what was judged to be eye level for a child. Beneath the photographic display the wooden blocks were placed at random on a small table. An experimenter stood behind the one-way mirror during an observation session so that when a child looked at a photograph he was looking directly at the experimenter who was, therefore, able to determine, easily and reliably, where the child was looking. When the photographs were inspected by the children, the experimenter noted the number of each photograph through a microphone. A camera was trained on the childs activities with the blocks so a visual record of the session was obtained for both groups together with an audio recording of concurrent looking behavior in the picture group. Procedure. On arrival children played with toys in a nearby room for about 15 min to enable them to relax and become more used to their surroundings. They were then taken to a smaller observation room where the experimenter explained the nature of the task. Each child in the picture group was told that the photographs showed how the wooden



blocks fitted together to make a pyramid/tower; the left to right order of the photographs was pointed out and the children were asked to try as hard as you can to work out from the photographs alone how to build the pyramid/tower without being given any other clues. The instructions, therefore, stressed that the pictures were to be used as a guide for the ensuing construction. The nonpicture group were given a verbal description of the pyramid. It was carefully ascertained that each child understood what form the completed construction should take. They were then asked to try as hard as you can to discover how the wooden blocks fit together to make the pyramid. Each child was then left alone to proceed with the task. We tried to keep the children involved with the task for 20 min or until completion. If a child gave up fairly quickly (as some of the younger ones did) they were encouraged to try for just a bit longer but if they were very reluctant then the session was concluded. Analysis. The audio-visual record of each child was examined. Every operation performed by the child was drawn out on a coding sheet-an operation was defined as a correct or incorrect act of assembly. Twenty correct acts of assembly were required to complete the pyramid but all operations were noted. Where appropriate, the timing and direction of the childrens looks at the photographs were also indicated on the coding sheet which was marked out in time intervals of 15 sec. RESULTS
Picture vs Nonpicture Groups

In order to assess whether the provision of pictorial instruction had been of any assistance, the task performances of children in the picture and nonpicture groups were compared. Twenty-five of the thirty children from 5 to 8 years in the picture group succeeded in building the pyramid whereas only 16 nonpicture group children were successful. There was a 30% decrease in success rate at each age level in the nonpicture group (x = 4.93, p < .05). When all children (successful and unsuccessful) were considered in terms of the number of correct constructions achieved, the performance of the picture group (mean 18.8 correct operations) was significantly better than the nonpicture group (mean 13.7 correct operations) [z = 2.87 (corrected for ties), p < 0.0041. The children in the picture group were, therefore, able to make effective use of the pictorial information provided. We will go on to consider their performance in detail.
Picture Group Children Who Succeeded in Building the Pyramid

In the main, only the youngest children (4-5 years) were unable to build the pyramid through pictorial instruction. Only two of the ten







children in this group managed to complete the task whereas seven of the ten 5-6 year olds succeeded, eight out of ten 6-7 year olds, and all of the 8 year olds. The time taken to build the pyramid, as seen in Table 1, varied enormously from 2 min 50 set to 27 min 55 set and the number of looks at the photographs ranged from zero to 135. Likewise, there was a considerable range in the number of operations required before the pyramid was completed-from 23 to 96. Despite the variation between subjects, there were few significant differences between age groups on these measures. There were no age differences in the time taken to build the pyramid, in the number of operations performed before completion, nor in the number of times the photographs were consulted, except that 6-7 year olds looked significantly more at the photographs than 5-6 year olds (U = 12, p < .036). The most outstanding differences between children who managed to build the pyramid were between boys and girls rather than between age groups. As the tapes were being coded, it became more apparent that the boys approach was, typically, different from the girls. Generally speaking the boys adopted a trial and error strategy looking at the photographs either as a last resort when they had been stuck for some time or else after they had successfully assembled some blocks. Girls, on the other hand, tended to monitor their activities very carefully-consulting the photographs before, during, and after an operation. In order to quantify these differences, a measure of picture-utilization (attentiveness to photographs) was devised-the ratio of looks to operations. The 27 successful children could then be classified as high or low photograph users. The median point on the picture-utilization scale was 1.08 looks per operation and children were categorized above or below the median. Boys were then compared with girls. Table 2 clearly indicates that girls tend to fall above the median level of picture-utilization and boys fall below it. A x test confirmed that girls referred to the photographs significantly more than boys (x = 8.40, p < .Ol). The childrens rating on this scale was compared with their efficiency in building the pyramid. An efficient child could be one who completes the pyramid in the shortest time or one who makes fewest incorrect operations in the process of building. Each measure reflects a different facet of efficiency but perhaps least number of operations is the fairest estimate of efficiency if 4-5 year olds are to be compared with more dextrous 8 year olds. Both efficiency measures were, in any case, used in the following analyses. In terms of the number of operations required before completing the pyramid, girls were significantly more efficient than boys (x = 6.24, p < .02). The median number of operations was 41 and approximately 70% of boys made more than this number of constructions whereas 70% of





girls made fewer (see Table 3). When efficiency is measured in terms of time the pattern is similar (see Table 4). The median completion time was 7 min 13 set; about two-thirds of the girls finished more quickly than this whereas the same proportion of boys took longer. In this case, however, the difference is not significant (x = 2.98, p < .lO). The different strategies of boys and girls are clearly reflected in these results. The consequence of a trial and error strategy is a greater number of wrong constructions so discovering the nature of the task through action, rather than through consultation of the medium of instruction, usually requires more time. Nevertheless, as Fig. 2 illustrates, the three fastest children were all boys although, on the other hand, the five slowest children were also boys. The boys tend to lie in more extreme positions in the quadrants of Figs. 2 and 3 whereas the girls are positioned closer to the median point. It would appear that the boys strategy, when it works, can be extremely successful but when it does not work it is most inefficient, requiring a great deal of time and a large number of operational errors. The girls approach may not result in dazzling successes but it tends to be more consistently reliable. Of the children who successfully performed this task without pictures, nine were boys and seven were girls. There were no sex differences in task efficiency, however, in the nonpicture group-both sexes had to adopt a trial and error strategy. The frequency of operations by girls increased significantly in the absence of pictures (U = 36.5, p < .002) whereas there was no substantive difference in the boys level of operating (U = 79.5). Girls achieved a higher number of correct operations when pictures were present (U = 62, z = 2.5, p = .0124) but the improvement in the boys performance did not reach significance. These results underscore the ability of girls to make effective use of pictorial assistance when it is available and confirm that boys still pursue a trial and error strategy even when presented with pictorial information. The mean number of operations (56.5) and the mean number of looks (57.9) are similar for boys and although seven out of thirteen successful boys make more operations than looks, there is a high and significant correlation between the frequency of looking and the frequency of operating (assembling) (YS = .85, p < .OOl). The better boys make fewer looks and fewer operations while the poorer boys make more of both. The mean number of operations (38.7) and mean number of looks (45.2) are both lower for girls and 10 out of 14 successful girls make fewer operations than looks. Consequently, there is no significant correlation between frequency of looking and constructing among the girls (YS = .18). As might be expected, number of operations was correlated with completion time for both girls and boys (YS = .75, p < .Ol; YS = .90, p < .OOt , respectively). But number of looks and time were significantly



Comdetion (min) of Picture Nonpicture Picture Nonpicture Number looks Degree of Photo-utilization


Number of correct operations

Total number of operations




4-5 20 2 4 9 5 0 20 3 18 2 20 20 20 16 20 20 18 20 20 9 5 20 13 20 0 28 31 68 52 84 24 30 52 113 63 33 44 75 55 71 48 86 15 65 0 119 38 90 107 82 31 86 58 23 36 86 36 28 97 44 66 48 32 73 70

years 0.77 1.33 1.4 0.75 1.59 1.38 I .47 1.44 0.49 1.13


3 3 4 5

27.9 15.2 6.7 25.2 10.6


7 8 9 10

5.8 8.7 14.4 21.0 15.6

S-6 4 2 5 20 20 58 96 41 85 26

years 74 94 120 74 34 0.83 0.90 0.37 0.76 0.00 1.11 2.77 0.85 0.44 2.33


2 3 4 5

13.2 15.3 5.5 23.5 2.8

20.0 19.3 20.0 11.8 4.9


I 8 9 10

6.8 9.6 15.3 9.6 18.1

20.0 6.2 20.0 20.1 19.3

6-7 20 9 20 I3 20 1.67 I .32 I.12 2.00 I .25 I .03 0.58 62 28 27 II3 0.15 I .08 L 3 20 20 20 20 49 79 59 37 61 78 89 67 31 100 52 47 I15 77 135 1.06 0.59 1.95 2.08 2.21



2 3 4

8.9 16.6 18.3 13.5 17.5

17.6 23.6 II.5 3.4 13.8

F6 20 20 20 20 20 17 2 4 2 20 33 25 41 30 51 82 109 IO1 I6 57 55 33 46 60 64

8 9 IO

5.9 4.7 6.9 7.2 II.6

19.3 19.8 20.0 18.9 7.7

8 years


E 2 0 2

4 5

IO.1 6.6 4.1 3.3 19.1

20.0 4.0 4.6 20.0 4.5

20 20 20 20 20

I2 20 20 5 20

60 48 33 25 92

85 29 44 103 43


8 9 IO

5.2 4.3 9.1 4.6 6.3

17.4 10.6 12.6 9.2 5.3

20 20 20 20 20

II 20 20 20 20

40 30 65 23 26

106 84 54 73 47

I4 35 55 32 83

I .23 0.35 I.17 0.85 1.39 3.19

22 2! 2 C





SEX DIFFERENCES Boys Low attention to photographs High attention to photographs Total x2 = 8.40. p < .Ol.



IO 3 13

4 IO 14

14 13 21






Low number operations High number operations Total * xz = 6.24,

of 4 of 9 13 p < .O?. TABLE 4 IN EFFICIENCY AS MEASURED Boys 4 14 13 21 IO 14




Low completion time High completion time Total d x2 = 2.98. p < .lO.

5 8 I3

9 5 14

I4 I3 27

correlated in the boys (TS = .89, p < .OOl) only, not among the girls (YS = .40). An increase in the number of acts of assembly entails, therefore, a longer period of task involvement for both boys and girls. For boys, an increase in the number of looks has the same effect but generally only the poorest boys, those who took a great deal of time, looked at the photographs a lot. A high frequency of looking by girls did not, however, produce a poor level of performance in terms of time, more as well as less efficient girls looked at the photographs to a great extent. If anything the poorest girls were those whose level of operating exceeded the frequency of looking.




* 0

88 J

FIG. 2. Degree of attention differences.


to photographs


with completion

time: sex



FIG. 3. Degree of attention to photographs compared with number of operations: differences.






Age differences (regardless of sex) were examined in the measures described above. Frequency of operations was significantly correlated with completion time among the 5-6 (YS = .96, p < .OOl), 6-7 (YS = .91, p < .Ol), and 8 year olds (TS = .81, p < .Ol). Number of looks and time were similarly correlated among 5-6 (YS = .96, p < .OOl), 6-7 (YS = .86, p < .Ol), and 8 year olds (YS = .73, p < .02). Frequency of looking and operating were significantly correlated among 5-6 (rs = .89, p < -01) and 6-7 year olds (rs = .79, p < .02) but not among 8 year olds (rs = .38).
Synchronization of Activity and Looking in Successful Children

As can be seen from Fig. 1, the series of nine photographs illustrate three component operations involved in building the pyramid. Photographs 1, 2, and 3 show the children how to combine the blocks into pairs; photos 4 and 5 show them how to combine two pairs in order to make one set of four, and photos 6, 7, 8, and 9 offer information on how to pile up successive sets of four blocks. It seemed a reasonable assumption, therefore, to suppose that when a child was involved in one of the three activities, the most useful photographs would be those in the section devoted to that activity. An analysis of the childrens looking behavior and their concurrent activities is summarized in Fig. 4 which is self-explanatory. Generally there is a high incidence of looking at the relevant photographs during the first enactment of a particular operation and the frequency oi: looking





decreases during further reenactments of the same operation. Eight year olds show most skill in the synchronization of looking and operating and 4 year olds are the least accomplished. All children (except the two 4-5 year olds) refer to the piling photographs before they add the last level of the pyramid. The last block is different and a number of children pondered momentarily before placing it on the pyramid showing skilled use of the photographs by consulting the relevant picture before making their decision-whether to adhere to the previous principle or whether to place the block in the same position as is shown in photograph 9. In fact, a third of the 27 children who completed the pyramid built an exact replication of photograph 9 and placed the last piece off-center (see Fig. 1).
All Children in the Picture Group

When all children (successful and unsuccessful) were considered, no age differences emerged with respect to the number of operations carried out by the children. Twenty correct operations were required in order to build the pyramid; the number of correct constructions completed ranged from 0 to 20. The time taken to complete a correct assembly (time at task/number of correct constructions) was compared between age groups. Eight year olds were significantly quicker at completing each correct assembly than 6-7 (U = 23, p < .05), 5-6 (U = 24.5, p < .05), and 4-5 year olds (I/ = 3, p < .002). Four to five year olds were significantly slower than 5-6 (U = 3, p < .002), 6-7 (U = 0. p < .002), and 8 year olds (U = 3, p < .002). There was no significant difference between 5-6 and 6-7 year olds in the rate of construction. It is worth pointing out here that the rate of construction by 5-6 year olds was significantly improved by the provision of pictures. The nonpicture group was considerably slower (U = 15, p < .02) but no significant difference was observed in the performance of 6-7 and 8 year olds. Six to seven year olds tended to look at the photographs more than 5-6 or 8 year olds (p < .lO) but this was not significant. There were no other differences between age groups in the extent of reference to the media. There were, however, some interesting differences in photograph preferences. The distribution of each childs looks between the nine photographs was expressed as a percentage of the total number of looks for each child. These scores were combined and the resulting group percentage scores were ranked in order of preference. The youngest group tend to favor the photographs which fall in the middle of the array; the first three photographs, those which illustrate the recurring pairing procedure, are the least favored of all. There is no sequential preference in the 5-dyear-old group-early and late photographs in the sequence seem to be distributed at random in the preference scale. The 6-7-year-



old group, however, strongly prefers the photographs which lie at the end of the sequence, perhaps concentrating on the end result rather than on the means of achieving it. The looking preferences of the 8 year olds seem to be the most logical. They give most attention to the early photographs which depict the most frequently recurring operations. All children tend to look a great deal at photograph 6, the first photograph in the piling sequence. A great deal of information is contained within this picture, it not only explains that the second set of four fits on top of the first set but it also implies that the sequence depicted in the first five photographs must be repeated. Many children found this a little confusing and, on reflection, the photograph could have been clarified. Nevertheless, as we shall see later, there were some surprises regarding which age groups found the photograph confusing and photograph 6 proved useful in highlighting these differences. The proportion of looks at a particular photograph (observed rate of looking) was compared with the proportion of looks which would have been directed at that photograph if looking behavior had been distributed evenly across the visual display (expected rate of looking). A sign test analysis confirmed that 4-5 and 5-6 year olds look significantly less than expected at photograph one (p < .05); 6-7 year olds look significantly less than expected at photographs one and two (p < .05) and significantly more at photograph six (p < .OOl). Eight year olds look significantly less than expected at photographs seven and eight (p < .05). This analysis not only showed up interesting differences in the strategies adopted by different age groups but also confirmed that except where differing strategies are reflected in an uneven distribution of looking, the other photographs attracted a fairly regular number of looks. Although photograph six was a popular choice, it was consistently favored only by the 6-7year-old group. The same analysis was applied to the childrens frequency of looking at each of the three segments of the visual display, i.e., the pairing, fours and piling photographs. There was only one significant result: 6-7-year olds looked significantly more at the photographs illustrating the piling operation than would be expected by chance (p < .05). When all children were considered, the frequency of looking and the frequency of operating were significantly correlated only among the 4-5 year olds (YS = .69, p < .05) not among 5-6 (YS = .61), 6-7 (YS = .39), or 8 year olds (rs = .38). As might be expected, there were significant correlations between the number of operations and time at all age levels; 4-5 (rs = .91, p < .OOl), 5-6 (rs = .76, p < .02), 6-7 (rs = .83, p < .Ol), and 8 year olds (rs = .81, p < .Ol). Number of looks and time were significantly correlated among 5-6 (rs = .64, p < .0.5), 6-7 (rs = .73, p < .02), and 8 year olds (rs = .73, p < .02), but not among 4-5 year olds (rs = .60).




293 Rej7ect Those

How Accurately Did the Childrens Constructions Depicted in the Pictorial Display?

Of the children who completed the pyramid, only two (one boy, one girl) assembled all the blocks in precisely the same way as that portrayed in the photographs. Overall three children made totally picture-defined constructions, but the third child completed only four correct operations. The proportion of picture-defined constructions ranged from 45 to 100%. Nonpicture-defined constructions were largely the result of children making one pair then, rather than putting that pair to one side in order to make another pair, they added a third block to the original pair, then a fourth and made up sets of four in this way. This was a common practice reflecting, perhaps, young childrens inability to move from the center of one activity, bearing it in mind, while creating another. Having made a correct assembly (which they seemed to recognize instantly) children of all ages were most reluctant to put it to one side and direct their attention elsewhere. Another fairly common divergence from the picture-defined route to completion was making up pairs which were not pegs and holes as shown in the photographs but half pegs and half holes which fitted together to form a set of four. The childrens motto seemed to be if it works use it-they seemed to be unperturbed by the lack of fit between their constructions and the photographs as long as a set of four was completed in the end. Another variation, which has already been mentioned, was placing the last piece in an off-center position (though these children probably considered that to be precisely picture-defined). More extreme variations were produced by the 4-5 year olds. One boy built a complete half pyramid because he could not figure out how to make a set of four. Another child, faced with the second largest set of blocks left over as she neared completion, placed them just below the last two smallest levels-a very tricky piece of maneuvering. In general it seemed that the children, if they felt under pressure to complete the pyramid, certainly felt under no compulsion to build it in exactly the same way as it was done in the photographs-if their way worked, that was quite sufficient. Nevertheless, significantly more of the constructions by the picture group followed the pattern outlined in the photographs than did those of the nonpicture group [z = 1.96 (corrected for ties); p < .05].

All children, from 4 years upward, were able to make some use of the photographs as a source of instruction but there was a systematic increase, between the ages of 4 and 8 in childrens abilities to use the pictorial information successfully. A control group of 30 children from





5 to 8 years of age were significantly less successful when they performed the task in the absence of pictorial information. The proportion of children in the picture group who succeeded in building the pyramid increased from 20% at the youngest age level to 100% at 8 years. This linear increase in success rate was not matched by a corresponding linear increase in efficiency as measured by the number of acts of assembly performed or time. There were no differences in the former measure and although the rate of construction was fastest for 8 year olds and slowest for 4-5 year olds, there were no differences between 5-6 and 6-7 year olds. Successful children seemed remarkably similar and showed even fewer differences-they were equally efficient on both measures-but the degree to which the photographic support was used varied inasmuch as 6-7 year olds consulted the photographs significantly more than 5-6 or 8 year olds. A consistent finding between all age groups and irrespective of success is that the greater number of operations carried out in building the pyramid, the longer it takes. Not a surprising finding and yet it is the crux of the difference between girls and boys to which we shall return later. Somewhat surprising is the efficient performance of the successful 5-6 year olds. They are as adept as the 6-7 and 8 year olds on all measures and achieve this degree of success without the heavy reliance on the pictures which the 6-7 year olds exhibit. The only statistic which leads us to suspect that the 5-6 and 6-7 year olds differ from the 8 year olds is the relationship between looking frequency and the number of operations. Among successful children, there is a high and significant correlation between these measures for 5-6 and 6-7 year olds but not for 8 year olds which suggests that the oldest children are able to operate without constant reference to the pictures and/or that they consult the pictures and process the information more accurately which leads them to construct fewer incorrect acts of assembly. Yet when all children are considered the relationship between frequency of looking and number of operations fails to hold for all but the youngest children. One suspects that the unsuccessful 5-6 and 6-7 year olds may be trying either of the possible strategies described for the 8 year olds-but they are not successful. The 5-6 year olds, therefore, are as efficient in their construction of the pyramid as the 6-7 year olds but the older group use the photographs considerably more than the children above and below them on the age scale. Nine out of ten 6-7-year-old children pace each operation with at least one look, either they are looking at the wrong photographs or their information-processing ability is poorer than children a year younger. The analysis of synchrony between looking and operating indicated that the 6-7-year-old group, above all age groups, showed the greatest correspondence between activity and photographic support. They are more





frequently looking at the right photograph at the right time so it would appear that they are not able to process this information as well as the 5-6 year olds. This seemed an implausible conclusion at first and we were inclined to dismiss it and deduced that the effect was probably an artifact or our relatively small samples. In the light of other evidence, however, it would appear that the poor performance of 6-7 year olds may reflect a growth error which has been documented by other researchers (e.g., Cox & Fletcher, 1976; Weir, 1964; Wohlwill, 1962). A reexamination of the video records and coding sheets for each child shed some light on the problems encountered by the 6-7-year-old group. Seven out of ten of these children have considerable difficulties with piling operations because of their literal interpretation of the photographs, particularly photograph 6. An inordinate amount of time was spent by these children in the construction of an exact replica of the assembly depicted in this particular photograph, which suggests why their rate of construction was no quicker than 6-7 year olds in the nonpicture group. They did not seem to be able to discern the principle behind the photograph. It could be argued that photograph 6 is misleading and indeed this was confirmed by the fact that no children in the nonpicture group experienced any extra difficulty with this particular operation. Nevertheless it is interesting that the photograph posed problems for the 6-7year-old group only. The 4-5 year olds who could not complete the pyramid were not held back by this specific problem. Although the photograph-preference scale might indicate that 6-7 year olds are working from photographs at the end of the series, the analysis of synchrony between looks and actions pointed to a closer degree of correspondence at 6-7 than at any other age. The significantly greater amount of looking at the end photographs does not reflect a strategy of working from ends rather than means, but rather confirms the synchrony between looks and actions; the 6-7 year olds look most at photographs 6-9 because they have most problems with the operations portrayed in these photographs. The problems of the 4-j-year-old group are quite different; they have no trouble with piling procedures, in fact, this what they are best at. All the youngest children have great difficulty in picking out blocks of the same size. The greatest problem facing the 4-5 year olds is making pairs and fours but they do not favor the photographs depicting these operations, particularly pairs-these photographs are the least preferred. The children are, therefore, often looking inappropriately and many of them never discover the pairing principle. The result, in most cases, is an assorted collection of wooden blocks piled indiscriminately. The 5-6 year olds also have no problem in piling completed sets of four but six of the ten children have difficulty in selecting the same-sized blocks. Unlike the 4-5 year olds who, generally, cannot be forced by



the nature of the task into achieving seriation, the 5-6 year olds, in most cases, are eventually successful in categorizing blocks along a size dimension. The synchronization of looks and actions in these children is similar, in many ways, to the pattern observed in 8 year olds. The proportion of looks at relevant photographs is similar between the two groups and, like the 8 year olds. the 5-6-year-old children look at the photographs which logically they need for the first two or three enactments of an operation and then proceed from early to later photographs in the sequence as the pyramid progresses. This strategy sometimes causes problems, however, because when they have difficulty in making subsequent pairs or sets of four they are often not looking at the photographs which could assist them. The task seems to be well within the capabilities of the 8 year olds. Their looks are well integrated with their actions for the first one or two enactments of a particular operation. Having completed each of the three operations involved, most 8 year olds quickly and easily repeat the procedures involved and consequently they complete each assembly in the construction significantly more quickly than the other three groups. But the expertise of the 8 year olds is not reflected in significantly fewer operations or looks (or time if successful children only are considered). This seems to be due to one 8-year-old (a boy) whose performance is considerably worse than his contemporaries. This child takes almost twice as long as the next slowest 8 year old, performs 27 more operations and 30 more looks. The group average is thus considerably lowered and the efficiency and expertise of the other nine 8 year olds is masked. In previous studies in which the same task was used, many mothers suggested spontaneously that it was more suitable for boys because it appealed to male interests in mechanical and construction activities. It was all the more surprising then, in the present study, that the girls were generally so much more efficient than the boys. Among successful children, the dissimilarity of approach between the sexes far outweighed differences between age groups (even between 4-5 and 8 year olds). The girls carefully monitored their activities and the extent to which they relied on the pictures for guidance was reflected in their generally efficient performance. The girls scores tended to cluster above and around the median level with very few poor performances. The boys trial and error approach, however, was often more inefficient than the girls although it sometimes led to novel solutions and, in three cases, to very efficient performances. The boys are represented at extreme ends of the continuum with some falling above and below medium efficiency levels. The strategies adopted by the children, from the youngest to the oldest, though variable in many ways, had one common underlying feature. None of the children attempted to carry out the task by copying exactly the operations depicted in the photographs. They did not display a strat-




egy of imitative matching of the photographs feature by feature. All children appeared to extract goals and subgoals from the information presented in the visual display and within this framework allowed themselves a degree of latitude in the methods used to achieve the goals or subgoals. Even the group whose choice of photographs coincided most closely with their activities, the 6-7 year olds, were not operating at a feature by feature level, except in the case of photograph 6 where precise imitative matching caused considerable problems. However, although children often produced novel solutions to create the assemblies illustrated in the pictures, the finding that the picture group made substantially more picture-defined constructions than the nonpicture control group indicates that the pictures were used and that children are able to guide their activities with pictorial information. In conclusion, it is clear that children in this study, from 5-6 years of age upward, operated more effectively than those reported in Vurpillots studies. When children are using pictorial material for objective purposes-where they use pictures to guide their own actions which, in turn, feed back to evaluate their interpretation-they seem to perform more effectively than in a passive task which provides less interpretable feedback. Children under 5 years of age are able to make use of pictorial material for complex purposes, at least under certain conditions.
REFERENCES Cox, W. F., & Fletcher, H. J. Information seeking vs. information utilisation in childrens induction from incomplete pictures. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1976. 43, 151-153. Olson, D. R. Cognitive development: The childs acquisition qf diagonality. New York: Academic Press, 1970. Serpell, R. Cultures injfuence on behaviour. London: Methuen, 1976. Vurpillot, E. The visual world of the child. London: Allen & Unwin. 1976. Weir, M. W. Developmental changes in problem solving strategies. Psychological Revierr,. 1964, 71,473-490. Wohlwill, J. F. From perception to inference: A dimension of cognitive development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 1962, 27, 87-107. Wood, D. J., & Middleton, D. J. A study of assisted problem solving. British Jownal of Psychology, 1975, 66, IBI-191. Wood, D. J., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. The role of tutoring in problem solving. Joltrnal
of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 1976, 17, 2, BY-100.

Wood, D. J., Wood, H. A., & Middleton, to-face teaching strategies. International
1, 131-147. RECEIVED:

D. J. An experimental
Journal of Behavioural

evaluation of four faceDevelopmenr.


July 10, 1980;


October 30. 1980.