?Review of “the Credible Shrinking Room:
Very Young Children’s Performance With Symbolic and
This study is performed on 2.5 year olds, and tests their ability to use their knowledge of the
location of a toy (Troll-doll named “Terry”) in a room (tent-like, with various pieces of common
household furniture) to draw deductions as to where a miniature toy is located in a model replica
(same fabrics, materials, etc.) of said room.
There were two conditions. The 17 children in the nonsymbolic condition believed that a
“shrinking machine” had caused the room the become smaller, whereas the 15 children in the
symbolic condition were told that the smaller room represented the larger room. The question is
whether the children would be able to associate the smaller room with the larger one, thus utilizing
knowledge of symbols. The hypothesis is that because the scale model of the room is so interesting
an object, the children will be unable to look at it while simultaneously thinking about its relation
In the symbolic task, the children were shown the large and small dolls, large and small
rooms, and were told of their formal relationships. The children watched as the experimenter hid
the doll somewhere in the large room, and were told that it would be in the same place in the smaller
room. After 10-15 minutes, the child was asked to find the doll in the smaller room. If they were
unable to find it, they were given prompts until retrieval. To succeed, the children had to realize
that the rooms were related. (The trials alternated between large to small room, then small to large
room, in both the symbolic and nonsymbolic trials.)
In the nonsymbolic task, the children were shown a doll and a room, and watched as the
doll was hidden within the room. (They were asked in about five minutes to find it, but as this was
a simple memory task, there was 100% success.) In an orientation activity, the children were then
shown a “machine that can shrink toys”, and given an elaborate demonstration. They were then
shown another toy being hidden in the larger room, taken away, and returned to be shown the
“shrunken room” and asked to find the toy in it. (The children’s acceptance of the “shrinking” was
then assessed with the help of a questionnaire given to parents.)
In the symbolic task, six of the 15 children never found the toy, and six retrieved it only
once. No child succeeded on more than two of the four trials. The children understood their task,
and were happy to cooperate, but apparently didn’t understand that knowledge from one room could
Children in the nonsymbolic task, however, did much better. 12 of the 17 subjects achieved
three or more errorless retrievals, and seven of those had perfect scores.
In neither task did success change based on whether the trial was from small to large room,
Because the symbolic task requires dual representation, whereas the nonsymbolic task does
not, it can be concluded that very young children have a great deal of difficulty with that task.
Limited cognitive ability makes it difficult to represent a single object in two different ways.
That children’s comprehension of dual representation is called into question here has
practical implications: whether children understand what manipulables such as blocks, and other
quantity-representing objects are actually representing and whether anatomically correct dolls aid
investigations of abuse if the child cannot perceive what the doll represents.
This study shows the importance of not assuming that children understand the symbol-object
relationship, no matter how uncomplicated it seems to those who are older.
?DeLoache, Judy, S., Miller, Kevin, F., & Rosengren, Karl, S. (1997). The Credible
Shrinking Room: Very Young Children’s Performance With Symbolic and Nonsymbolic
Relations. Journal of the American Psychological Society, 8, 308-312