Faculty Research at Morehead State University


The Differentiation of the Concepts of Difficulty and Ability

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3 levels of differentiation of the concepts of difficulty and ability were distinguished and cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence of progressive development presented. At the least differentiated level, termed egocentric, "hard" is equivalent to "hard for me." At the second level, objective difficulty, children recognize continua of objective difficulty (e.g., numbers of pieces in jigsaw puzzles) and recognize that more objectively difficult tasks demand more ability. Only at the normative difficulty level (where performance of others provides the basis for judging difficulty) is difficulty judged independently of the subjective experience of difficulty and the concepts of difficulty and ability clearly differentiated. It is shown that understanding of the development of difficulty level preferences demands consideration of both level of differentiation and individual differences in perceived ability within levels. Current theories of difficulty preference in adults are shown to be based on the less differentiated conceptions of difficulty. The implications of this fact for these theories are noted.