Museum of Science, Boston

Consensus

How do children pay attention to social groups when learning new things?

When learning new things, children use social cues in order to decide if their teacher is a good source of information. In this study, we’re interested in whether children also pay attention to the behavior of groups of people when learning new information.

Children watch a series of videos featuring four women with three objects in front of them. We tell children that the women are going to point to the object that is a “dax” (or another nonsense word). Three of the women in the video point to the same object, but the fourth points to a different object, conflicting with the rest of the group. We ask children: Which object is the dax? We predict that children will choose the object that the three women chose, rather than the object that only one woman chose.

Next, we show children just two of the women: the one who always disagreed, and one who was part of the consensus group. Which person will know the name of a new object? We predict that children will choose the woman who was part of the consensus, rather than the woman who consistently disagreed with the rest of the group. This would show that children prefer to trust information coming from members of a larger social group.

This study has important implications for children entering school. Do they “go along with the crowd” even if someone disagrees? This research will help us find out what types of social information children use when making those kinds of decisions.

Learn about other research related to Learning From Others.

This research is conducted by the Paul Harris Lab at Harvard University

Try it at the Museum

Who knows the answer?

When your child is learning something new about the objects in the Discovery Center, who does s/he turn to for information? A parent, a sibling, a friend, a museum volunteer? Who seems like a good source of information, and why? Does s/he ask more than one person?

Try it at Home

Inquiring Minds

Does your child ask you more questions about some topics than others? Do they turn to your spouse, or to their siblings or friends, for other types of information? Think about why this might be. Are they using past experience, body language, or comparison with others nearby?

What do they know?

When would it be a good idea to go along with the crowd? When would it be a bad idea? Have you encountered both types of situations in the past? How did you decide who was “right”?