Do children prefer the explanations of a “powerful” character?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Young children must learn to navigate multiple sources of information (e.g., parents, friends, teachers). Our prior studies have shown that 4-5 year old children can differentiate between good and bad arguments. A person’s “power” (social dominance) can also influence whether a child chooses to trust information from that person. This study explores children’s preferences when these two features (quality of argument and “power”) may be in conflict.

    Preschoolers will listen to stories about two puppets and hear their explanations about different objects. One game will establish social dominance between the puppets: one puppet will constantly defer to the others puppet’s decisions. Next, the two puppets will provide one of two types of explanations about a picture: some children hear a non-circular explanation (e.g., “The polar bear is white so it can hide in the snow”), while other children are given a circular explanation (e.g., “The polar bear is white because its fur is white”). Finally, children will listen to puppet’s explanations about objects or pictures. In each case, children will be asked to choose between the puppets' answers.

    We predict that children will be more likely to prefer the non-circular explanations, even if they come from the non-dominant puppet. We hope to better understand how children make critical judgments about information they receive, and how these judgments guide learning. We are particularly interested in instances when the perceived dominance of a character conflicts with the quality of the explanations that s/he gives.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Social Learning Lab at Boston University’s School of Education.

        » Social Learning Lab at Boston University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Learning from Adults

    Children often look to others for information. When your child has questions about the objects in the Discovery Center, notice where s/he goes to find help.

    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?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Teaching Others

    Ask your child to explain to you something they find interesting, and notice whether your child give a circular or a non-circular explanation. For example, if your child were explaining why it gets dark at night, “it gets dark at night because night time is dark” would be a circular explanation, while “it gets dark at night because the sun has set so we can’t see the light coming from it” or “the Earth has rotated away from the Sun so we cannot see its light” would be a non-circular explanation. Then, explain the same thing to your child using the opposite type of explanation. Discuss with your child how these types of explanations differ. Ask which type of explanation s/he likes to be given by others. Does s/he prefer to receive the same type of explanation that s/he gave?

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