THE EFFECT OF TASK CONTENT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF FORMAL OPERATIONS
AVRECH, KAREN SINGER
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The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of altering the content of a logical exercise sampling the binary operations designated by Inhelder & Piaget (1958) as the criteria of formal thought. It was hypothesized that adolescents would perform less well on a task embedded in a story relevant to adolescent conflict (The Beth & Sarah Test) than on a parallel task (The Coin Test) which was emotionally neutral. It was hoped that the hypothesized regression in formal thought on the emotionally charged test would provide empirical evidence for the construct of adolescent egocentrism formulated by Piaget (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958) and developed by Elkind (e.g., 1967a). The effect of altering the task demands by instituting a negation condition was also investigated.;The parallel forms of the logic exercise were administered to intact classes of scholastically advanced pupils. A group, multiple-choice format was used. Subjects were 61 7th graders (28 girls, 33 boys) and 55 10th graders (29 girls and 26 boys). Each test consisted of 14 statements presented as true, and 12 statements presented as false. Thus, there were four sub-tests, the positive and negative sections of the Beth and Sarah Test, and the parallel sections on the Coin Test. Each statement, a direct quotation, represented a binary operation and had to be matched to a truth table. All subjects received all sub-tests.;An analysis of variance performed on the means of the sub-tests yielded the following results: (1) The main hypothesis, that the emotionally charged task would prove more difficult than the neutral task was not confirmed. Regardless of the age or sex of the subject or the form of the proposition (positive or negative) there was no significant difference between performance across content. (2) As hypothesized, the 10th graders performed significantly better than the 7th graders. This was true regardless of test content or form of the statements. (3) As expected, the statements presented in the negative form proved significantly more difficult than the positive form. This form effect held up irrespective of test content or the age or sex of the subject.;It was concluded that the content effect found by Ward & Pearson (1973) comparing human vs. non-human content was probably due to uncontrolled linguistic differences between the parallel forms they used. In the present study this fault was eliminated by using direct quotations for all statements. It was also concluded that logic tests are particularly resistant to content changes because of their relative novelty and lack of expectancies for success. The significance of the form effect was attributed to the extra mental operations demanded by the negation condition. The age effect was interpreted as supportive of Piaget's theory of adolescent cognitive development.;It was concluded that evidence of adolescent ego-centrism is, so far, imperceptible on cognitive tasks. Observational techniques were suggested as alternative means of investigating this concept.;The appropriateness of the use of the combinatorial as an analog of formal thought was discussed in light of the differential rankings of the operations and the extreme difficulty of some of the items. The importance of distinguishing between inclusive and exclusive concepts was highlighted as an educational implication of the study.;Finally, the results of the present study were interpreted as a confirmation of the non-unitary character of formal operations. The findings reinforced the need to study formal thinking as it is manifested in stages, and as differential aptitudes.