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Journal Article

Symbolic play as a zone of proximal development: An analysis of informational exchange


Kidd,  Evan
Language Development Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Learning through Processing, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
The Australian National University;
ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Creaghe, N., & Kidd, E. (2022). Symbolic play as a zone of proximal development: An analysis of informational exchange. Social Development, 31(4), 1138-1156. doi:10.1111/sode.12592.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-086D-4
Symbolic play has long been considered a beneficial context for development. According to Cultural Learning theory, one reason for this is that symbolically-infused dialogical interactions constitute a zone of proximal development. However, the dynamics of caregiver-child interactions during symbolic play are still not fully understood. In the current study, we investigated informational exchange between fifty-two 24-month-old infants and their primary caregivers during symbolic play and a comparable, non-symbolic, functional play context. We coded over 11,000 utterances for whether participants had superior, equivalent, or inferior knowledge concerning the current conversational topic. Results showed that children were significantly more knowledgeable speakers and recipients in symbolic play, whereas the opposite was the case for caregivers, who were more knowledgeable in functional play. The results suggest that, despite its potential conceptual complexity, symbolic play may scaffold development because it facilitates infants’ communicative success by promoting them to ‘co-constructors of meaning’.