Horizontal decalage: A problem and its solution

Shulamith Kreitler*, Hans Kreitler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Horizontal decalage signifies inconsistent performance in problems requiring the same cognitive process(es). It constitutes a major problem for the Piagetian theory of cognitive development. Piaget argued it is unpredictable. The purpose of this research was to investigate the cognitive determinants of horizontal decalage, focusing on the role of contents. The paper reports four studies based on applying the system of meaning (Kreitler & Kreitler) to horizontal decalage in conservation. Study 1 (630 first graders, 42 conservation problems) showed that difficulty of conservation problems corresponded to the distance between content aspects in the problems. Study 2 (360 first graders, 12 conservation problems) showed that differences in the performance level in different content domains reflected differences in the children's mastery of these content domains. Study 3 (160 first graders, 36 conservation problems, and the Meaning Questionnaire) identified a set of cognitive processes involved in conservation, and showed that high scorers on these processes solved problems of all degrees of difficulty better than did low scorers. Study 4 (210 first graders, 18 conservation problems, and the Meaning Questionnaire) showed that the mastery of the content domain and the cognitive processes accounted for most of the variance. Main conclusions are that horizontal decalage is a predictable phenomenon determined by the difficulty and content domain, affected by the subject's mastery of the cognitive processes involved in conservation and the relevant content domain, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-119
Number of pages31
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1989


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