Children's understanding of ambiguous figures: Which cognitive developments are necessary to experience reversal?

M.J. Doherty, M.C. Wimmer

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47 Citations (Scopus)


In two experiments involving one hundred and thirty-eight 3- to 5-year-olds we examined the claim that a complex understanding of ambiguity is required to experience reversal of ambiguous stimuli [Gopnik, A., & Rosati, A. (2001). Duck or rabbit? Reversing ambiguous figures and understanding ambiguous representations. Developmental Science, 4, 175-183]. In Experiment 1 a novel Production task measured the ability to acknowledge both interpretations of ambiguous figures. This was as easy as and significantly correlated with a False Belief task, and easier than a Droodle task. We replicated this finding in Experiment 2, and also found that perceiving reversal of ambiguous figures was harder than either the False Belief or Production tasks. In contrast to previous findings, the Reversal and Droodle tasks were not specifically related. We conclude that children only attempt reversal once they can understand the representational relationship between the figure and its two interpretations. The process resulting in reversal however is hard, probably requiring additional developments in executive functioning and imagery abilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-421
Number of pages15
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2005

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