The nature of the relationship between cognitive-developmental level and mental imagery



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Texas Tech University


The present study assessed the relationship between the development of mental imagery and the acquisition of concrete-operational thought. Piaget and Inhelder’s theory (1971) that mental imagery progresses in a predictable and hierarchical structure from reproductive-static imagery to forms of imagery that are kinetic and involve anticipation was assessed among sixty middle-socioeconomic children between 5 and 14 years. The children’s cognitive-developmental levels were operationalized by a composite of scores on tasks of conservation, animism, and combinatorial reasoning. Two weeks following the cognitive assessment, the children were tested individually for five types of mental imagery—reproductive—static imagery, reproductive-kinetic imagery, anticipatory-kinetic imagery, reproductive images of transformation, and anticipatory images of transformation. Co relational analyses and analysis of variance procedures measured the relationships between the development of mental imagery and that of cognition. As hypothesized, a canonical correlation confirmed a positive relationship between cognitive development and mental imagery r(58)=.87, p<.0001. However, a multivariate, repeated-measures analysis of variance that compared the children’s frequency of correct responses with their responses to the five imagery tasks determined that the five types of mental imagery occurred in varying developmental sequences for children with different cognitive abilities. No consistent hierarchy within mental imagery development was determined. Finally, one-way ANOVA’s compared the scores of children with different cognitive levels on each mental imagery task. For every type of mental imagery, concrete-operational children scored significantly higher than preoperational children, although all types of mental imagery were present to some degree at both operational levels. As Piaget and Inhelder (1971) suggested, the movement from preoperational to concrete-operational thought was highly related to the development of mental imagery. However, the results of the present study demonstrated only quantitative changes in imagery development; children’s proficiency with all types of mental imagery increased with the acquisition of concrete-operational thought. Evidence demonstrating a consistent hierarchy of imagery structure was not determined within this study’s sample.



Cognition in children, Imagery (Psychology), Child development