Do children play more with a toy when evidence is not clear?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    It is widely believed that children learn by playing, but how does this happen? This study asks: do children play in more diverse ways with a toy when it is not clear which cause, among several possible causes, makes the toy ‘go’.

    A two-paneled mat is placed in front of children so that the white panel is closer to the child and the black panel is farther away. Children in one condition see that a blue block placed on the white panel makes a red toy light up, and then see that a yellow block on the black panel makes a green toy light up. This is called confounded evidence because it is not clear which variable—the type of panel or the type of block—causes the toy to light up.

    Children in the second condition see that the blue block makes the red toy light up when placed on either panel. Similarly, the yellow block makes the green toy light up when placed on either panel. This is called unconfounded evidence because it is clear that the type of block determines which toy lights up.

    In both conditions, children are then given a chance to play on their own. We predict that children shown confounded evidence will try both sides of the mat and discover that it is the type of block determines which toy lights up. We predict that children shown unconfounded evidence will primarily use the side of the mat that is closer, because they will already know that it is the type of block, not the side of the mat, that determines which toy lights up.

    This research will help us better understand whether children are sensitive to different kinds of evidence, which may be one way that children are able to learn through play.

        » Stretching to Learn: Ambiguous Evidence and Variability in Preschoolers’ Exploratory Play

    Gweon, H., & Schulz, L. (2008). Stretching to learn: Ambiguous evidence and variability in preschoolers’ exploratory play. In Proceedings of the 30th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 570-574).

    This research was conducted by the Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT.

        » Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Have an infant? Babies play too!

    Let your baby explore the touch pads of our sea-themed causal learning exhibit. How does your baby respond to each pad? Does your baby touch each pad to figure out what effect each pad will have on the toy?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Find a toy in your home that has many buttons or levers that your child can investigate. Does your child take time to push one button or lever down at a time to find out how it works? How long will your child play with one toy before moving on to a new one? Does your child play longer with the toy if they are unsure how it works?

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