The role of collaboration in the cognitive development of young children: a systematic review

Child Care Health Dev. 2016 May;42(3):313-24. doi: 10.1111/cch.12330. Epub 2016 Mar 16.


Background: Collaboration is a key facilitator of cognitive development in early childhood; this review evaluates which factors mediate the impact of collaborative interactions on cognitive development in children aged 4-7 years.

Methods: A systematic search strategy identified relevant studies (n = 21), which assessed the role of ability on the relationship between collaboration and cognitive development. Other factors that interact with ability were also assessed: gender, sociability/friendship, discussion, age, feedback and structure.

Results: Immediate benefits of collaboration on cognitive development are highlighted for same-age peers. Collaborative interactions are beneficial for tasks measuring visual perception, problem-solving and rule-based thinking, but not for word-reading and spatial perspective-taking. Collaboration is particularly beneficial for lower-ability children when there is an ability asymmetry. High-ability children either regressed or did not benefit when paired with lower-ability participants.

Conclusions: Overall, the studies included within this review indicate that brief one-off interactions can have a significant, positive effect on short-term cognitive development in children of infant school age. The longer-term advantages of collaboration are still unclear. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords: cognitive development; collaboration; problem-solving.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Learning / physiology
  • Peer Group*
  • Problem Solving / physiology