It is widely believed that children learn by playing, but if you observe children’s play activities, you may notice that the process of ‘playing’ is inherently unsystematic. This contradiction has made the question of how children learn during play of particular interest to parents, teachers and researchers. To find out what play is all about, cognitive scientists have developed and are testing theories about how children might learn through play.
Even when games involve chance, adults often have the illusion that they can control the outcome. For example, when rolling dice, adults who want a small number often roll the dice softly, while adults who want a large number roll the dice vigorously. Our research investigates whether children understand that some events are based purely on chance, and whether they also act like they can control these kinds of uncontrollable events.
In our studies, we want to find out what children (ages 3-10) think about flipping coins. We ask some children questions to find out if they understand that coin-flipping is a game based on chance. Other children play six rounds of a coin-flipping game with a member of the research team. Each player wagers some fake money at the beginning of the round. We want to know what kinds of situations lead children to behave as though they have increased control over the coin flips. To find out, we will test out different variations of the game. Some children will be told explicitly that the game is based on chance. Other children will get to flip the coin themselves, or will compete against a blindfolded person. If children think that they have control over the outcome of the coin flips, they may wager more money in each round.
We predict that children of all ages will act like they have increased control over the coin flips in certain situations, like when they are able to flip the coin themselves. We also predict that these illusions of control may be strongest in young children, who might have difficulty understanding that coin-flipping is based purely on chance.
This study will help us understand how children make sense of random events and games based on chance, and the ways that they use evidence from these events to make decisions in daily life.
Learn about other research related to Learning Through Play.
This research is conducted by the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University