Representational redescription and the development of cognitive flexibility

Spensley, Mary Fiona (1995). Representational redescription and the development of cognitive flexibility. PhD thesis The Open University.



Karmiloff-Smith (e.g. 1986, 1992) has suggested that 'cognitive flexibility' is the result of a series of three representational redescriptions. These redescriptions are carried out by endogenous metaprocesses operating directly on the representations. Representational redescription accounts only for development beyond 'behavioural success', the stimulus to the redescription being stability at a previous level.

Many features of the Representational Redescription theory are criticised, but the underlying idea that cognitive flexibility is associated with representational level is maintained. This point is supported by a review and study of planning development arguing that representational development, rather than process development explains increasing flexibility.

Data from children's drawings and block balancing, along with a theoretical analysis of the model indicate that the details of the Representational Redescription theory are not consistent or plausible. In particular the concepts of initial procedural representation, endogenous metaprocesses, behavioural success, stability as the spur to development, and implicit information within representations, are rejected.

Removing the constraints of behavioural success suggests a new recursive model, which is proposed as a general developmental mechanism. 'Recursive Re-Representation' views representational redescription as a <em>creative</em> process, and builds on Boden's (1992) computational approach to creativity. Cognitive flexibility is determined by a limited cognitive capacity, the level of 'chunking' in a domain and the possession of an overview of the relevant conceptual space. Chunking is achieved through a re-representation of behaviour and the environment, rather than a direct operation on representations. The BAIRN system (Wallace, Klahr & Bluff, 1987) is suggested as providing the basis for an implementation of Recursive ReRepresentation.

It is argued that the Recursive Re-Representation account which views Representational Redecription as a recursive, creative process provides a more parsimonious approach to representational change throughout development.

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