This week, I read a study produced by scholars from the University of Melbourne, Australia about the relationship between mother-child pretend play and the child’s later IQ (here). The play was analyzed through the framework of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The study demonstrated that toddlers that were later found to have higher IQ’s learned pretend play in the ZPD more quickly.
The researchers begin by defining ‘giftedness’ in children as “a capacity for advanced functioning in areas such as abstract thinking and language....rapid and efficient learners, with strong memories, advanced metacognitive and analogical skills and high levels of intellectual motivation”. They argue that children who engage in pretend play with their mothers or caregivers are more likely to have a higher IQ. Vygotsky’s concept of ZPD emphasizes the “social, historical and dialectical nature of development”. His theories support the mother-child interactions and natural influences the mother has over their young child. His concept of ZPD can be defined as “the difference between what the child can do unaided and what it can accomplish with the assistance of adults”.
In this study, researchers found 21 mother-child pairs to document. The dyads were observed over a course of 8-17 months in several lab monitored play times. They were examined for a potential link between children with high IQs (by age 5) and advanced pretend play in the ZPD. The Pretend Play Observation Scale was used to document and standardize the data collected from this study. The scale is a chart that can document the progression of pretend play over time though Decontextualisation, Decentration, Sequencing and Planning. Children were then brought back for an IQ test around the age of 5-6. The study demonstrated that early development in gifted children was linked to higher IQ’s but by 16 or 17th months, children that later tested with lower IQ’s were able to catch up to the pretend play of the group of children with high IQ’s.
Ultimately, this study showed that there was no significant correlation between the pretend play levels and IQ. It did, however, show that children with higher IQ’s would engage in more independent pretend play by one year of age. Vygotsky viewed pretend play as a primary factor in the development of abstract thinking and the capacity of one’s imagination as emphasized in the study.
While reading this study, it was hard to ignore the fact that only 21 mother-child pairs participated in the research. I wonder how accurate the results could be when the pool of participants was so shallow? Also, I can imagine that the mother’s interactions with their children were more forced in the laboratory setting than they would be in their own environments. Another doubt of mine was the participants themselves. The study provides details about the recruitment process and it seems as though there is not much diversity in the pool of participants. Ultimately, what I found interesting was the strong connection between Vygotsky’s theories about the importance of the development of abstract thought in children and the relationships found between pretend play and IQ.