The Effects of Speech Awareness and Speech Instructions on Young Children's Self-Talk and Cognitive Self-Regulation During a Dimensional Change Counting Task

Louis Manfra

Advisor: Adam Winsler, PhD, Department of Psychology

4260 Chain Bridge Road, D
July 04, 2006, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM


The current paper tackles questions regarding the role speech awareness and speech instructions play in young children's cognitive self-regulation. Cognitive self-regulation refers to an individual's ability to plan, organize, and execute cognitive activities, such as memory or attention. Speech awareness is defined as having knowledge of speech use in either its covert or overt, or social or private, forms. Forty-eight children between the ages of four and seven completed several tasks related to speech awareness, cognitive self-regulation, and executive functioning. Children were first given an inner speech use assessment that asked children to demonstrate whether or not they can talk to themselves inside their head. Next, children were asked to complete the Dimensional Change Counting Task (DCCT), in which they were required to count a single dimension (shape or color) of a two dimensional picture. Half-way through the task, the rule of the task changed and the children were asked to count the pictures based on the other dimension. The children completed this task four times with variation in speech instructions: (1) no instruction, (2) verbal label instructions, (3) instructions to be silent, and (4) instructions to whisper. Following the DCCT, the participants were asked questions about their use of private and inner speech. Finally, the children watched video clips of another child (1) using full volume private speech, (2) whispering, and (3) thinking with no overt signs of speech (e.g., no lip movements) and were asked questions about the video child?s speech use. Results indicated that children use high volumes of speech on the DCCT regardless of the speech instructions. Performance was highest on the verbal label condition and lowest on the silent condition, higher for the pre dimensional switch items, and positively associated with age. When the children were asked to say the dimension they were counting (verbal label condition), accurate counting was associated with stating the correct dimension (even when age was controlled statistically); when children were asked to remain silent while counting, accurate counting was associated with mutterings (even when age was controlled statistically). During the spontaneous/control condition, children with inner speech awareness maintained their level of performance from pre to post-switch, while children without inner speech awareness drastically decreased in performance post-switch. Psychological and educational implications are discussed.