Waiting to Use a Symbol: The Effects of Delay on Children's Use of Models

David Uttal*, Jill C. Schreiber, Judy S. DeLoache

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


To use a symbol to solve a problem, children must achieve representational insight; they must realize that the symbol stands for its referent. Moreover, they must keep this relation in mind as they attempt to use the symbol. The present studies investigated the achievement and maintenance of representational insight. 3‐year‐olds were asked to use a scale model of a room to find a toy hidden in the room. In Study 1a, children first watched as a small toy was hidden in the model. They then waited either 20 sec, 2 min, or 5 min before attempting to find a similar, larger toy that was hidden in the corresponding place in the room. All children experienced all delay intervals; three groups experienced the delays in different orders. There was a dramatic effect of delay order. The children who experienced the 20‐sec delay on their first trial generally performed well throughout the 6 trials, but the children who experienced a 5‐min delay first almost always failed to find the toy in the room, even on subsequent trials with shorter delays. Additional studies revealed that the negative effects of the initial long delay could be overcome by providing reminders of the model and its relevance (Studies 2 and 3) or by giving children prior experience in using the model (Study 4). The results indicate that keeping a symbol‐referent relation in mind can be difficult for 3.0‐year‐old children. This research is discussed in terms of the importance of maintaining representational insight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1875-1889
Number of pages15
JournalChild development
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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