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Child Dev. 1979 Sep;50(3):643-55.

Realizing that you don't understand: elementary school children's awareness of inconsistencies.


2 factors were proposed to affect awareness of one's comprehension failure: the inferential processing requirements, and the kind of standards against which comprehension is evaluated. These studies investigated elementary school children's awareness of their own comprehension failure when presented with inconsistent information. Study 1 showed that children were more likely to notice explicit than implicit contradictions. However, even 12-year-olds judged as comprehensible a sizable proportion of essays with seemingly obvious inconsistencies. Yet, the children had good probed recall of the information, the logical capacity to draw the inferences, and were not generally reluctant to question the experimenter. In subsequent studies children were (a) asked to repeat sentences in order to guarantee that the 2 inconsistent propositions were concurrently activated in working memory, and (b) warned about the existence of a problem in order to promote more careful evaluation. Taken together, the results suggest that to notice inconsistencies children have to encode and store the information, draw the relevant inferences, retrieve and maintain the (inferred) propositions in working memory, and compare them. Third through sixth graders do not spontaneously carry out those processes that they are capable of carrying out.

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