In this study, we look at how children learn self-regulatory strategies from a model. Children first observe a model playing a game with the experimenter, which involves waiting for a nicer bigger sticker or ringing the bell to stop waiting and only get one small sticker. The model uses waiting strategies like pushing the sticker away or singing. We then let the child play the same game and a novel game and see whether they imitate any waiting strategies from the model. This study takes about 15 minutes in total and the child’s behavior will be videotaped.
This study focuses on whether emotion regulation affects a child’s performance on an executive functioning task. In the first part, the experimenter plays a block game with the child, where the child imitates pointing to a certain block. The child then chooses the gift they would like to receive later, but the experimenter prepares a different/unappealing gift for them. Afterwards, the child plays the block task again. So far we have found that children perform significantly worse during the second part because they are trying to suppress their negative emotions about not receiving their favorite gift, and this affects their performance. This study takes about 10 minutes.
NIH Toolbox/Eyes Task
Previous research shows that the presence of another person, specifically an angry eye gaze, affects children’s performance on various tasks as it increases arousal. Therefore, we are researching whether a picture of angry eyes, compared to a picture of flowers, affects a child’s performance on executive functioning tasks. We let children play two computer games, one involving matching shapes and colors and the other involving judging the direction of a fish. We then measure their reaction time and number of correct answers for each task. So far we have found that children’s performance is worse when they are shown the picture of the eyes rather than when shown the picture of the flowers, which supports previous research. This study takes about 30 minutes.
Explanations are an essential tool for a child to learn about the world. We study the effects of expertise and the quality of an explanation on who a child believes is a trustworthy source. In this study, children are shown a video of two girls, of whom one is dressed up as a scientist. They provide either circular/bad or non-circular/good explanations about several scientific phenomena and later on they say the names of some novel objects that the child has never seen before. We look at whether children trust the scientist more simply because she is a scientist, or whether they trust the informant providing the good explanations more. This study takes about 10 minutes.
Following up from the previous study, we have designed a study to research the effects of the quality of explanations on a child’s understanding of an electricity box. In the first part, the child is presented with a box containing colorful buttons and switches, some of which turn on a light when pressed. The experimenter provides either a circular/bad explanation, a non-circular/good explanation or no explanation at all about how the light turns on. In the second part, the child is presented with a new but similar electricity box and asked to turn on the light. We observe how long it takes them to activate the light and whether they imitate any behaviors based on the type of explanation they received before. This study takes about 15 minutes.
We are currently conducting a study in our lab space looking at mother-child interaction. Specifically, we focus on the types of questions children ask, the explanations parents give and the follow-up questions that children ask. This study involves the child and mother playing with some novel toys and reading a book with strange events. Later on, the experimenter presents some strange stimuli (e.g. hat with a hole) to the child and depending on whether the child asks a questions, provides them with either a good or a bad explanation. Later on we introduce the child to a puppet that asks questions about the strange stimuli and we see whether the child has learnt from the previous explanations. This study takes about one hour and is videotaped.
The child is shown different sets of tubes and told one tube is blocked so the marble can’t go through and the other tube is not blocked so the marble can go through. When deciding which color of tube to choose, the child gets help from two puppets. The oral puppet asks her friend and says one certain color and the text puppet reads the color off an envelope in front of the tubes. We expect pre-readers to prefer the oral puppet and readers to prefer the text puppet.
Children’s use of consensus information
How do young children select among informants when the trustworthiness of a particular informant is difficult to gauge – for example, when they have no history of interaction with the person and he or she makes claims that are difficult to check against relevant evidence? We find that under these circumstances, 3- and 4-year-olds look to other people’s reactions for guidance. They are more likely to accept an informant’s claim if it is endorsed by other people. Indeed, even when those other people leave, children continue to favor information provided by the person with whom the other people agreed as compared to someone with whom they disagreed.
We are currently following up on this basic finding in several ways. First we are interested in what children do when the majority opinion conflicts with the child’s prior knowledge or their own perception. Second we are interested in individual and cross-cultural differences in children’s reliance on the majority.
Preference for familiar informants
Infants treat familiar caregivers as a secure base. For example, when encountering an unknown person, they often seek emotional reassurance from their mother. Do children turn to a familiar caregiver not just for reassurance, but also when seeking information? Any preference for a familiar caregiver in these learning situations would have implications for early childhood education. In particular, given the high rate of teacher-turnover, children might be at a disadvantage when learning from a relative stranger. We find that most children show a preference for learning novel information from their mother over a stranger – and from a familiar teacher over an unfamiliar one. We also find that children show a preference for familiar-sounding informants (people who speak with their same accent). We are interested in looking at just how far children trust a familiar person – and in ways that we can make an unfamiliar (or unfamiliar-sounding) person seem trustworthy.
Preference for prior accuracy
Do children assess the reliability of their informants in any way beyond attachment and familiarity? In a series of studies, we have found that preschoolers are extremely sensitive to a speaker’s prior accuracy, but this sensitivity changes through the preschool period. When faced with two unfamiliar informants, 3-year-olds monitor for informant inaccuracy, mistrusting any informant who labels a familiar object incorrectly . Four-year-olds are more forgiving, preferring a relatively accurate informant who makes occasional mistakes over one who makes frequent mistakes. This memory for an informant’s record of accuracy is quite stable, lasting up to a week after children’s initial exposure to the informants.
What happens when familiarity and accuracy are placed in conflict? For example, which person do children trust when a familiar informant proves inaccurate or an unfamiliar informant proves accurate? In two studies, we have observed a marked developmental change: 3-year-olds’ preference for a familiar teacher or for a person with a familiar native accent is not affected by whether those informants prove inaccurate. By contrast, 5-year-olds prefer an unfamiliar teacher or a person with a non-native accent if they prove to be more accurate.
Children’s understanding of informants as experts
Do children judge informants who are knowledgeable as having positive traits in other domains? Such “halo effects” are a classic area of inquiry in social psychology, yet little is understood about whether young children are prone to them. We have examined this issue in the domains of causal reasoning and word learning. We find that 4-year-olds are sensitive to informant expertise, but only use it when the expert’s knowledge pertains to key internal properties of an object, rather than surface properties, such as color.
Two other studies show additional support for children’s sensitivity to informant’s expertise. When preschoolers are asked to discriminate between an accurate and inaccurate informant, they do not view accuracy as a global trait. For example, they do not claim that an accurate informant is physically “stronger”. Similarly, when given information about an informant’s luck and accuracy, preschoolers prefer to learn new information from a previously accurate informant, regardless of her luck status. Taken together, the results of these several studies show children are surprisingly astute. They think of expertise and accuracy as specific rather than global traits.
Learning from testimony in specific domains
Classic research in cognitive development has emphasized how children learn from their own first-hand experience. Yet children learn about many scientific and historical phenomena on the basis of other people’s claims and not on the basis of their own observations. Thus, we have examined how children differentiate the functions of the mind from the functions of the brain and how children understand the learning process. In both of these projects, we found that the claims that children hear affect how they view the phenomenon in question.
The majority of this line of research focuses on how children learn about historical figures. Because children cannot travel back in time, they can only learn about history from the claims made by other people. We find that children use their causal knowledge to identify the narratives as historical or fictional. Older children (aged 5-7) use fantastical (i.e. causally implausible) narrative episodes to conclude that protagonists in such narratives are fictional rather than historical. We are currently exploring how children construe religious narratives. For example, children hear religious narratives in which the protagonist performs acts that violate familiar causal principles (e.g., walks on water). Do children accept that the protagonist is a historical figure or do they assume that the narrative and the protagonist are simply fictional?