Ignoring information successfully has consequences, such that responses are slowed to target stimuli recently ignored as distractors. Termed negative priming, this effect is believed to mark the after effect of an inhibitory component of selective attention. Consistently observed in adults, evidence for negative priming in children is tenuous. In this study, it was argued that distractor inhibition in children may be more likely to appear in contexts where anticipated selection difficulty is thoroughly and consistently maintained. Results from three experiments examining negative priming effects in children aged 5 to 12 years were consistent with this hypothesis. Intact negative priming was observed in even the youngest children, with no age- related differences apparent. Moreover, and similar to adults, negative priming was produced for a range of stimuli including familiar, novel and 3-D impossibly shaped items. Some evidence for long-term negative priming effects was also obtained for the oldest children. To conclude, the present study provides compelling evidence to indicate that the inhibitory component of selective attention matures early.
Verena E. Pritchard, MSc(hons) PhD: Awarded the 2006 Canterbury Medical Research Foundation Child Health Fellowship, and with research interests in cognitive and developmental psychology, Dr Pritchard is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.