Supporting Study: Li et al. (1999)

Aim:  To test Piaget’s theory of conservation

Procedure: The researchers used the same conservation task as Piaget on 486 Chinese primary school students. They presented a child with two similar glasses that held the same amount of water and asked which glass had more water in it. They then changed one of the glasses to a taller, skinnier glass while the child was watching. They asked the same question again.

Findings & Conclusion: They found that the children typically answered the first question correctly, saying that there is the same amount of water in each glass. However, for the second question, the percentage of children who answered the correct answer (same amount) increased with age. This supports the theory of conservation as children cannot see things that remain constant despite change appearance. In addition, this supports the application of Piaget’s theory to an international classroom as the participants were Chinese, as opposed to the typical Western participants that Piaget based his theory off of. Below is an example of the conservation task:


Evaluation: McGarrigle & Donaldson (1974) suggested that demand characteristics are present in the classic conservation task. They did a variation on the experiment using parallel lines where a puppet “naughty teddy” changed the appearance of the initial similar length rows. They found that children were able to conserve earlier than Piaget suggested, due to the less artificial task utilized.


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