Shultz, T. R. (1998). A computational analysis of conservation. Developmental Science, 1, 103-126.



An approach to modeling cognitive development with a generative connectionist algorithm is described and illustrated with a new model of conservation acquisition. Among the conservation phenomena captured with this model are acquisition, the problem size effect, the length bias effect, and the screening effect. The simulations suggest novel explanations for sudden jumps in conservation performance (based on new representations of conservation transformations) and for the problem size effect (based on an analog representation of number). The simulations support the correlation-learning explanation of length bias (that length correlates with number during number altering transformations). Some conservation phenomena that so far elude computational modeling attempts are also discussed along with their prospects for capture. Suggestions are made for theorizing about cognitive development as well as about conservation acquisition. A variety of classic puzzles about cognitive development are addressed in the light of this model and similar models of other aspects of cognitive development.


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