Psychology ETDs

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The overarching goal of this study was to examine the structural organization of preschoolers living kinds concept and the nature of developmental change in that concept from roughly 3.5- to 4.5-years-old. Specifically, this study was designed to assess whether preschoolers' living kind conceptual development involves progressive elaboration of an existing biologically based skeletal framework or conceptual reorganization. Unlike previous studies, this study employed a longitudinal design, an extensive stimulus set, alternate indices of understanding, and complementary statistical analyses. Thirty-five 3.0- to 3.5-year-olds participated in four testing sessions over the course of one year; each testing session included three phases that involved four object classes: plants, animals, mobile and immobile objects. The phases involved statements participants generated relative to the four classes, what biological and psychological properties they attributed to the classes, their assignment of 'alive' to the classes, and their answers to open-ended questions about living kinds. By examining preschoolers' responding in the different testing contexts over time and examining the relationship of responding across testing context and across the domains of biological and psychological understanding, this study was able to assess the structure of preschoolers' living kinds concept and whether that structure is organizationally stable or labile during the preschool period. Results suggest that certain aspects of a mature, biologically based framework are in place early in the preschool period while other aspects have not yet been developmentally constructed and that the nature of the developmental change that takes place between roughly 3.5 to 4.5 years involves both progressive elaboration of an existing biologically based skeletal framework and organizational restructuring.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Advisor

Witherington, David

First Committee Member (Chair)

Gangestad, Steven

Second Committee Member

Selig, James

Third Committee Member

Flowerday, Terri


UNM Psychology Department's Haught Dissertation Award




Developmental Psychology, Concept Development, Living Kinds

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Psychology Commons