How do children decide if something is likely to happen?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    People often worry a lot about negative events, even when they are very unlikely. For example, people are more likely to be hurt by a fall than by a shark, but they are rarely worried about using stairs and will often be worried if they hear a shark has been seen near where they swim. We want to know if children’s estimations and worries are related in the same way.

    In this study, children (ages 6 – 12) will be asked to estimate how likely events are to happen in the next week. Some events are neutral (eating) and some are more negative (getting in trouble). Children place these events on a scale from “Definitely not going to happen” to “Definitely will happen.” Parents will also be asked to participate so that we can see how family members might be similar. Parents will also answer a short questionnaire about how they and their child experience anxiety (“I wake up scared sometimes”).

    We predict that young children will generally think that all events are equally likely, but that older children will think that negative events are more likely to happen. We also expect that children who have more anxious feelings will have the highest estimates for bad things happening

    This study will help us better understand how children think about probability. This research may also help us understand children with clinical levels of anxiety and how to help them feel better.

    Boston University Social Development and Learning Lab

        » Social Development and Learning Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    What is Your Best Guess?

    Find the “What is your best guess?” activity in the Communities environment. This activity lets you explore how other people might influence how you estimate probability.

    Do you think that other people would influence how you estimate the probability of a negative event? Would it be the same or different from estimating the number of stuffed animals or plastic balls?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Cautiously Optimistic?

    The researchers asked children about neutral events and negative events. What do you think might happen if you ask them about positive events?

    Try asking your child to sort events into piles based on how likely they are – the same way children do during the study. Ask them about events that would be very exciting for them, but pick some that seem fairly likely to you and others that seem fairly unlikely.

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