How does context change how we make estimations?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    The ability to estimate has been found to be an important part of doing math and making decisions. Previous studies have shown that our ability to accurately estimate time or number is influenced by earlier experiences. For example, people’s estimates of numbers of objects, or specific amounts of time (durations), may be changed by the range of values they experienced previously. In this study, we are comparing how prior experiences impact estimates of time and number and whether children are influenced differently than adults.

    In this study, children (ages 7 – 12) and adults (ages 18 and up) make estimates about time or number. In the timing task, participants see a grey oval for a certain length of time. Then they try to hold the spacebar down for the same amount of time. In the number task, people see a set of dots and are asked to guess how many they saw.

    We predict that both children and adults will change their answers to be more similar to the durations or numbers they have seen earlier in that same task (such that they will overestimate smaller values in the range and underestimate large ones). We think that children will have bigger differences in their responses than adults will.

    This research will help us better understand how people make estimations. This may allow people to help learners make better estimates or to make them more quickly.

    This research is supported by NSF Award DRL1561217.

    Infant & Child Cognition Lab at Boston College

        » Infant & Child Cognition 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 information from other people might change how you make an estimation.

    Do you think that information from other people will change your guess more or less than having made similar guesses before? Do you think it matters who is giving you the information? Do you think your guess about number of stuffed animals influence your guess about the balls?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Waiting Patiently

    Next time you are waiting, you can use this as an opportunity to test your ability to estimate time. Pick a time and try to guess when it has passed. You can use a stop watch to check your answer. Are you better at short times or longer ones? Do you get better with practice?

    For more of a challenge, try doing the same thing when you are also doing another activity. Try it with activities you like and ones you dislike. Are you better at one or the other? You can also try with activities you do every day like brushing your teeth.

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