Museum of Science, Boston

Knowledge vs. Friendship

What motivates children to learn from others?

Research has shown that young children selectively learn from others: They often choose to learn from people who are similar to themselves (e.g., of the same gender or ethnicity) or from people who provided accurate information in the past. The current study aims to understand what motivates children to learn from other people. Do children learn from others because they want to gain accurate information about the world, because they want to affiliate with others, or both?

In this study, we ask 4-6 year-old children to play a computer game in which two animated characters provide conflicting information about what is inside of a container. In some cases the characters might differ in their knowledge (e.g., one looked into the container while the other did not look). In other cases, the characters differ in their friendship connections (e.g., one has friends while the other does not have friends). We ask children what they think is in the container, and we record whether they trust the information from one character over the other.

We predict that children will selectively accept information from the characters who looked in the container, and from those with friendship connections. This would tell us that children might be motivated to learn from others not only to gain accurate information, but also to affiliate with other people. In future studies, we plan to investigate whether one of these factors is more important to children than the other.

This study will help us understand how children learn new information from other people.

Learn about other research related to Learning From Others.

This research is conducted by the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University

Try it at the Museum

Knowledge, familiarity, or both?

Does your child trust information they get from other people in the Discovery Center? Whom do they trust? Whom do they look to for information? Do they gravitate towards people who are likely to have accurate information (like Discovery Center staff and volunteers)? Do they seek out people who are similar to themselves (like other children or family members)? Children may favor both types of people depending on the situation, and there might be a lot of overlap in these two categories (adult family members are both knowledgable and familiar!).

Try it at Home

Going along with the crowd

Being part of a group often means “taking their side” and agreeing with what they say. Have you ever gone along with the crowd in order to fit in? When is it a good idea to trust what someone else tells you? Think about some situations you’ve encountered when what was popular wasn’t necessarily correct or right. When isn’t it a good idea to go along with the crowd?