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J Exp Child Psychol. 1990 Feb;49(1):58-78.

The role of symmetrical and asymmetrical social conflict in cognitive change.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, Cambridge University, UK.


We asked whether dyads consisting of nonconservers of liquid would be more likely than solo controls to change to a conservation answer when each child gave symmetrically conflicting answers from different perspectives ("more" versus "less" from different viewpoints). We also asked whether nonconservers are more likely than conservers to abandon their answers in conserver + nonconserver dyads. In order to stimulate the perspectival conflicts in the nonconserver + nonconserver dyads, the partners experienced artificial displays in which the two possible answers were afforded by different views of the apparatus. We found no evidence that social conflict of the kind engineered in the nonconserver + nonconserver dyads stimulates cognitive change. Our evidence that nonconservers tend to adopt the conservation answer of their partners was less strong than that collected in previous studies, but this may have been due to the fact that, contrary to previous studies, the children's social dominance relations were affecting the outcome. We concluded that the ineffectiveness of symmetrical social conflict is consistent with Piaget's conception of nonconservers as children insensitive to the perspective-relative nature of their judgments.

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