Museum of Science, Boston

Learning From Others

Children often learn new information by asking or observing other people. Some cognitive scientists want to understand how children use information from those around them when making decisions or solving problems.

Current Research

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What do children learn from picture storybooks?

Storybooks often present information that can be applied to the real world. For example, after children see a picture of a zebra in a storybook, they might recognize a real zebra in a zoo. However, even realistic information in storybooks is often presented in a fantasy context (e.g., the zebra in the book may be able to talk to other characters). In this study, we want to know whether realistic or fantasy storylines affect what children learn from picture storybooks.

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Can children learn about natural selection through picture storybooks?

Many teachers believe that elementary school children need to learn basic ideas about animals and their habitats before they are ready to understand natural selection in high school. In our research, we want to know whether picture storybooks can help children learn about the theory of natural selection at younger ages, and whether the entire theory, rather than just isolated facts, can be introduced to children much earlier.

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How do children learn from different types of people?

Previous research has shown that the race and gender of a child’s teacher can play a role in the child’s learning. This may be because children tend to trust information given by members of their own social group. However, little is known about how this finding applies to multiracial children. In this study, we hope to investigate how children learn new things from people of various racial backgrounds.

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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?

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How well do children remember others’ faces and personalities?

Previous research has shown that children pay attention to a character’s gender, race, or age when learning new information from them. We want to find out whether these kinds of social group cues affect what children remember about the characters themselves.

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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.

Completed Research

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How does the help offered by a parent change children’s approach to problem solving?

Parents and other adults often provide children with help while they are engaged in difficult tasks. However, little is known about what younger and older children do with that help (e.g. do they take the advice they are given by adults, or do they ignore it?). This study explored how children, aged 1-5 years, solve a challenging puzzle when they work on it alone, and after they get help from a parent.

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How do children decide what is, and what is not, real?

Many children learn about people from books and stories. How do they know if the character is real or fictional? This study looked at how children’s understanding of the difference between pretend characters and historical figures develops.

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Can verbal cues help children inhibit irrelevant information?

Children’s everyday experiences show them that, when dropped, objects fall straight down. This research asks: how can we help children think beyond this belief when presented with conflicting evidence?

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Does imitating an adult’s actions limit children’s spontaneous exploration during play?

It is no surprise that children learn quickly by watching others, but previous research had shown that children are also good at spontaneously generating their own evidence during play. This study asked: How do children’s desires to imitate a teacher affect their ability to learn on their own during play?