Simulation in children’s conscious recursive reasoning

Monica Bucciarelli , Robert Mackiewicz , Sangeet Khemlani , Philip Johnson-Laird


When do children acquire the ability to understand recursion—that is, repeated loops of actions, as in cookery recipes or computer programs? Hitherto, studies have focused either on unconscious recursions in language and vision or on the difficulty of conscious recursions—even for adults—when learning to program. In contrast, we examined 10- to 11-year-old fifth-graders’ ability to deduce the consequences of loops of actions in informal algorithms and to create such algorithms for themselves. In our experiments, the children tackled problems requiring the rearrangement of cars on a toy railway with a single track and a siding— an environment that in principle allows for the execution of any algorithm—that is, it has the power of a universal Turing machine. The children were not allowed to move the cars, so each problem’s solution called for them to envision the movements of cars on the track. We describe a theory of recursive thinking, which is based on kinematic simulations and which we have implemented in a computer program embodying mental models of the cars and track. Experiment 1 tested children’s ability to deduce rearrangements of the cars in a train from descriptions of algorithms containing a single loop of actions. Experiment 2 assessed children’s spontaneous creation of similar sorts of algorithms. The results showed that fifth-grade children with no training in computer programming have systematic abilities to deduce from and to create informal recursive algorithms.
Author Monica Bucciarelli
Monica Bucciarelli,,
, Robert Mackiewicz (Wydział Psychologii)
Robert Mackiewicz,,
- Wydział Psychologii
, Sangeet Khemlani
Sangeet Khemlani,,
, Philip Johnson-Laird
Philip Johnson-Laird,,
Journal seriesMemory & Cognition, ISSN 0090-502X, (A 25 pkt)
Issue year2018
Publication size in sheets0.6
Keywords in EnglishRecursion . Informal algorithms . Deduction . Abduction . Kinematic simulations
ASJC Classification1201 Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous); 3205 Experimental and Cognitive Psychology; 3206 Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Languageen angielski
Simulation in children’s conscious recursive reasoning.pdf 1.59 MB
Additional file
Oświadczenie_R.Mackiewicz_Simulation in children's.pdf 22.57 KB
Score (nominal)25
Score sourcejournalList
Publication indicators Scopus SNIP (Source Normalised Impact per Paper): 2016 = 1.275; WoS Impact Factor: 2017 = 1.911 (2) - 2017=2.435 (5)
Citation count*
Share Share

Get link to the record

* presented citation count is obtained through Internet information analysis and it is close to the number calculated by the Publish or Perish system.
Are you sure?