Museum of Science, Boston

Traits and Memory

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.

In this study, we show children photographs of other children’s faces (both boys and girls with different ethnicities), and we ask them to try to remember every single face. Then we tell them a short story about the child in each picture. For example: “This little boy is walking in his neighborhood. He sees an old woman having a lot of trouble carrying a big box. This boy carries the box for the old woman to her front door.”

To find out if children remember the faces, we mix up the eight original pictures with pictures of different children, and ask children which faces they have seen before. Finally, we present the eight original pictures again, and we ask children if they would feel happy or sad if they were playing with each child.

We want to know whether children remember the faces, and whether they link these faces with various traits (for example, “good” and “bad”). We hypothesize that children may find it easiest to remember the characters that are most like them (either the same gender or the same ethnicity).

This study will give us insight into children’s ability to learn about unfamiliar people, and will help us understand how children interact with one another in social settings.

Learn about other research related to Learning From Others.

This research is conducted by the Paul Harris Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Try it at the Museum

Sources of information

Children often look to others for information. When your child has questions about the objects in the Discovery Center, whom does s/he decide to ask? How does your child know who will be a reliable source of information? Does your child remember one particular volunteer, after getting interesting information from them? What made that volunteer memorable?

Try it at Home

Learning about new friends

The next time your child makes a new friend at school, ask your child about this new friend: what is he or she like? What kinds of activities do the two of them engage in? What are some unique characteristics does this friend have, and how can your child tell? For instance, perhaps this friend is very nice because she or he likes to share toys with your child. Or maybe this friend seems a little shy because he or she does not talk very much in class. What kinds of personality characteristics can we infer from somebody’s actions?