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: dynamically, so that conflicting response demands are 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 dynamically resolve response conflict. 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 learning in context might aid children’s performance in the dimensional change card sorting (DCCS) over time, and a training study in which three groups of age matched under fours attempt to complete the DCCS. We find that appropriate training enables children to flexibly switch between their responses in the DCCS. Without training supporting discrimination learning, children’s performance is far worse, and when the task contexts are novel, children fail as expected.

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