How do caregivers and children talk about science ability?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Research has shown that people tend to believe that professions that are often perceived as being difficult (e.g. STEM careers), are associated with inherent ability. We are currently interested in exploring how caregivers talk to their children about STEM activities – specifically, whether there are differences in the way they refer to the ability or effort required to engage in these types of tasks.

    In this experiment, children (ages 5-7 years) and their caregivers will be asked to explore and discuss a short picture book together. In the picture book, characters are shown engaging in a variety of STEM activities (e.g. building a robot, investigating plants). After the caregiver and child are finished talking about the pictures in the book, the researcher will introduce the child to a novel science game and invite them to share their beliefs about the game.

    We are interested in exploring the kind of language caregivers use when talking about the pictures with their children – for example, referring to a character’s “brilliance” (ability), or their “hard work” (effort). We are also interested in how the explanations caregivers provide about STEM may influence their child’s interaction with the game. This research will allow us to better understand the factors that may encourage children to learn and engage in science.

    This research is being conducted through Living Laboratory at the Museum of Science by researchers from the Boston University Social Learning Lab

        » Social Learning Lab at Boston University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Little Scientists

    At the Discovery Center‘s Experiment Station, encourage your child to try the experiment of the day. Notice the type of language you use to praise his or her work. Language choices can impact children’s perception of their own abilities. Studies have found that when children are praised for their effort (e.g. “You worked so hard!), they tend to believe that - even when they struggle - they can still improve their abilities over time. However, children who are praised for their smarts (e.g. “You’re so smart!”) are more likely to see ability as fixed, with each person having a set amount of “smarts”.

    Studies have also shown that children are sensitive to stereotypes about groups of people from a very early age. How might the language that adults use when praising someone else impact how your child sees his or her own abilities?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Artists and Engineers

    The next time you encounter an artwork with your child (whether on the street, in your home, or at a museum, etc.), ask your child to imagine what the artist who created that piece might be like. Try this with several different artworks. What characteristics does your child use when imagining the artists? Do you notice your child using any common characteristics across the different artists s/he imagines?

    Then, when you encounter something an engineer may have designed (e.g. bridges, cars, buildings, etc.), ask your child to imagine what they think the engineer who designed the object might be like. What characteristics does s/he use when imagining the engineers? Does s/he use similar or different characteristics when imagining what an artist vs. an engineer might be like?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff: