Language and math are important tools that allow humans to better understand the world around them, and communicate with one another. Some cognitive scientists are interested in learning more about how children develop language skills and conceptions about basic math principles, and how the development of math and language skills in early childhood might be interrelated.
Adults have certain ideas about what seems random in the world. For example, many adults have had the experience of flipping a coin and trying to guess which side of the coin will end up on top—either the “heads” side (H) or the “tails” side (T). Most adults would identify the coin flip sequence of HTTHT as appearing more random than a sequence that looks more uniform, i.e.: THTHT. Although any sequence of five coin flips is equally likely, some sequences feel more random than others.
This study asks: are children’s ideas about randomness similar to adults, and how do their ideas change with age?
Children, ages 3 to 8 years, are shown a red marble and a blue marble, which are both placed in a bag by the experimenter. The experimenter then shakes up the bag, pours one marble out into an opaque container, and asks the child to make a guess about the color of that marble. This guessing game is repeated five times.
By looking at the types of predictions children tend to generate at different ages, researchers had hoped to determine how children’s estimates of randomness change over time, and at what age these changes begin. However, initial results revealed that children of many ages tended to produce alternating responses- that is, they just go back and forth in a pattern (e.g. "HTHTH").
Therefore, researchers recently introduced a new game, in this game the experimenter tries to guess which of 2 cards the child has chosen. In this version, the child's goal is to "stump" the experimenter, and so children should choose based on his or her best efforts to have the experimenter guess incorrectly.
We predict that, in this new game, children may diverge from their typically alternating responses (e.g. "HTHTH"), and attempt more "random" sequences, if they realize this pattern is predictable.
Learn about other research related to Math and Language Cognition.
This research is conducted by the Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT