Does the way children observe groups change how they make estimations?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    When adults encounter a group of objects, they usually first notice the group as a whole (the “global structure”) and then notice the individual objects (the “local elements”). However, young children tend to first process groups based on local elements (e.g., the shape of the individual objects rather than a pattern they make). We are curious about which processing style helps children to pay more attention the number of things that they see.

    In this study, children (ages 4.5 to 10.5 years) are asked to match groups of objects based on shape or number. For the shape-matching task children are asked to match either the global structure (e.g., match a “2” made out of little 4s to a “2” made out of little 8s) or local elements (e.g., match a “2” made out of little 4s to an “8” made out of little 4s). In the number-matching task, children are presented with three groups that only contain a match based on the number of objects (e.g., three circles, three triangles, and four stars). We want to know if encouraging children to use a particular processing style in the shape-matching activity will change how they match groups during the number-matching activity.

    We predict that children asked to shape-match based on local elements will be better able to number-match groups based on group size, compared to children who are asked to shape-match based on global structure.

    This study will help us understand what factors influence children’s perception of numbers, and may help us develop educational tools designed to stimulate children’s understanding of number as an important feature in defining and describing groups of objects.

    This research is conducted by Sara Cordes & Ursula Anderson: Infant and Child Cognition Lab at Boston College

        » Infant and Child Cognition Lab at Boston College

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Comparative Anatomy

    Find the Mystery Skeleton in the Natural Sciences Area. The challenge is to determine what animal the skeleton belongs to by assembling the pieces. A human skeleton is on display nearby to provide clues about what the skeleton might look like.

    Ask your child to see if s/he can find any bones in the mystery skeleton that might match the bones in the human skeleton. Some of the bones will look very similar, but others look quite different. Does your child look for bones with similar shapes (e.g., “This curved bone looks like one of our rib bones.”) or for larger patterns (e.g., “Here are a bunch of little bones all strung together – it must be like our spine.”). Ask a staff member to help you and your child assemble the skeleton. Does your child have an easier time noticing some similarities the staff member points out than other?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Choose a Snack!

    Lay out a triangle of three snacks. At the top, have 3 items of snack A. At the bottom, have 3 items of snack B on the left and 6 items of snack A on the right. Ask your child which of the two snacks on the bottom of the triangle is the same as the snack on the top. Does your child pay attention to the kind of snack or the number?

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