This study aimed to assess cognitive and behavioral correlates of young children’s interest in computers. Based on teachers’ ratings, 20 4- to 5-year-old children were classified as highly involved, moderately involved, or little involved in using an Apple II microcomputer made available to them in a preschool setting. Free play observations were made, and cognitive tests were administered to all children. Summing over times when with an adult, with a peer, or when alone, several significant differences among the groups of children were found. Computer users tended to be older, were equally likely to be a boy or a girl, and most important, exhibited significantly higher levels of cognitive maturity than children who were rated by their teachers as not very likely to be seen using the Apple. Even after statistically controlling for the effects of age, several significant group differences remained. High microcomputer users manifested higher levels of representational competence as measured by a symbolic-uses task and displayed more organized, more focused, and less concrete forms of free-play behavior than low micro-users. On the other hand, estimates of social maturity as assessed using Howes’ Peer Scales, estimates of potential creativity as assessed using divergent thinking tasks, and estimates of social cognitive ability and social knowledge as assessed using perspective-taking and selected hypothetical situation tasks did not differentiate the groups. The findings suggest that there are important cognitive underpinnings for computer involvement by preschoolers.
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