Doris Bischof-Koehler Aktuell

ICP Berlin 2008, Symposium

Cognitive and socio-emotional changes in four year olds: Are they manifestations of a common underlying process?

Nobert Bischof, Department of Psychology, University of Munich, Germany: Cognitive and socio-emotional changes in four year olds: Are they manifestations of a common underlying process?
Toward the end of the fourth year several seemingly unrelated competences emerge, among them level-II perspective taking (theory of mind), the use of a temporal buffer to anticipate non-actual motivational states (mental time travel), the consolidation of gender constancy, and a differentiation of children's affective attitude toward their parents. The symposium deals with experiments demonstrating age-independent correlations between the features named and examines the hypothesis that these correlations are due to a special mechanism enabling the subject to reflect upon frames of reference. Moreover, new methodologies in the investigation of emotional consequences of cognitive development will be discussed.


Norbert Bischof, Department of Psychology, University of Munich, Germany: Frame-of-reference awareness as a key to the developmental changes occuring around age four
"Frame of reference" is a construct introduced by Gestalt theorists to account for the essentially relative character of apparently absolute phenomena. While mostly inconspicuous, its functioning can under certain conditions be reflected upon. This capacity for frame-of-reference awareness is assumed to be specifically human and owing to a mechanism that is responsible for the synchronous development of several seemingly unrelated cognitive and emotional competences around age four, among them a theory of mind. It will be argued that the adaptive funcion of this mechanism is not primarily "common-sense mentalism" but a new and more efficient motivational priority management strategy.

Norbert Zmyj, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany:
Gender constancy and time comprehension in early childhood
Gender constancy requires the concept of an identical Self extending from thepast into the future. Therefore, the development of gender constancy and of time comprehension should coincide. This hypothesis was tested with 53 children aged 3 to 5 years. In the gender constancy task, participants watched a video showing the cross-dressing of a boy and a girl and wereasked about their beliefs regarding the permanency of the protagonists' apparent sex changes. Time comprehension was tested by comparing hour-glasses of different duration. Both competences correlatedage independently (rSpearman=.48, p<.001).

Eva-Maria Groh & Johanna Schubert, Department of Psychology, University of Munich, Germany:
The re-organization of familiar attachment structure in three to five year olds, as tested with a projective doll-play technique
Following a Lewinian suggestion, we hypothesized that frames of reference control not only perceptual, but also affective issues, particularly children's experience of their family "atmosphere". With frame-of-reference awareness developing, children should realize that parental perspectives diverge, which may cause transient uneasiness. To test this hypothesis we invited 104 children (aged 3 to 5) to play with dolls in a three-dimensional landscape offering ample opportunities to express social relations through interactive and spatial behavior. A computer-based evaluation of the play styles, validated by  parental interviews, clearly confirmed our expectation. The findings offer an alternative to Freud's allegation of an "Oedipal" crisis.

Gregor Kappler, Department of Psychology, University of Munich, Germany: Quantifying quality: How to teach the computer to interpret and evaluate a projective test
"Qualitative" categorizations based on the clinical evaluation of children's play are notoriously nonobjective. In order to ensurewarrant that all subjectsSubjects in the experiment reported by Groh & Schubert were evaluated equally, without sacrificing the subtlety of intuition, this intuition was transformed into a computer program. First, the concrete play events were protocolled in a syntactically simplified formal language. NextSecondly, this protocol was evaluated by an expert system calculating semantic fingerprints for every play. Finally, a neural network detected patterns within these fingerprints, thus assigning the children to psychologically meaningful play style categories. The methodology of this procedure will be discussed.

Doris Bischof-Köhler, Department of Psychology, Universitiy of Munich, Germany: Perspective taking, mental time travel, gender constancy and child-parent-relationship in four year olds: How they connect
Three studies with 183 children (aged 3 to 5) yielded highly significant correlations around.6 (age-independently, .4) between the onset of theory of mind (false belief, perspective taking), time comprehension, the ability to delay gratification, planning for the future, gender constancy, and socio-emotional uneasiness indicating an alienation of the other-sexed parent. Contrary to the present emphasis on the domain-specific modularity of cognitive capabilities the remarkable correspondence, both onto- and phylogenetical, of these features suggests re-considering the existence of domain-general mechanisms. The nature and possible evolutionary function of such mechanisms will be discussed.

Josef Perner, Institute of Psychology, University of Salzburg, Austria: Discussant