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Play and Problem Solving; An Elusive Connection

The hypothesis tested was that play provides the opportunity to observe features of the environment which are likely to be overlooked in more goal directed encounters with the environment. Children (n = 45), ages 5 to 8 years, were randomly assigned to a play group, a narrow-focus goal-directed group, or a broad-focus goal-directed group. Children in the broad-focus group recalled and recognized significantly more features of the environment than did the other two groups. The narrow-focus group traversed more of the environment than the other groups, yet recognized and recalled the least number of objects, suggesting that exposure per se is not a critical element. Further comparisons indicated that one advantage of the broad-focus group was the opportunity to touch more objects, although the psychological nature of the touch (e.g., goal-directed vs. play) had little impact on subsequent task performance.