The logical and empirical bases of conservation judgements
Review articleOpen access

AbstractIt is argued that conservation judgements are based on a particular combination of logical necessity and empirical belief. The empirical belief is that a given transformation will not alter a particular quantity (Elkind's conservation of identity). The logical aspect is a transitive deductive argument containing an initial equivalence of two quantities and the conservation of identity belief as premises which lead to the conclusion of maintained equivalence (Elkind's conservation of equivalence). In two experiments, it is shown that conservation of identity beliefs can be manipulated in subjects who have long since developed the capacity for transitive deductive inference. Untrained 10 year olds were unaware of how sublimation acts to alter certain quantities over particular transformations of shape. And untrained adults incorrectly believed that both the area and perimeter of a closed figure would be conserved over transformations which elongated the figure. Both groups of subjects could be trained in the correct conservation of identity beliefs and this affected their conservation of equivalence judgements in predicted ways. It is suggested that the locical aspect of conservation is developmentally stable and that the empirical aspect varies widely across problems and individuals because of its dependence on relevant experience.

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