How does our sense of time develop?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Infants as young as 6 months old are able to tell the difference between long and short periods of time. Children’s sense of time continues to develop and they master new skills like reading a clock or understanding how long a trip will be. This study seeks to understand the relationship between children’s non-symbolic (e.g. “short” or “long”) and symbolic (e.g. 5 minutes or 1 hour) understanding of time.

    In this study, we will ask children (ages 6 to 8) to complete two activities. In the first activity, children will hear two animals each play a musical instrument and will then be asked to determine which animal played their instrument for a longer period of time. In the other activity, children will answer some questions about time and number, such as reading the time from a clock or pressing a key on a keyboard for a certain length of time. Parents will also be asked to complete a brief survey that explores what they think their child knows about time.

    We predict that children who are more precise in the symbolic activity will be more accurate on non-symbolic activity. That is, children who have started developing an association between number and time will have a more accurate estimated sense of time.

    The results of this work will help us learn how children’s understanding of time develops, and how they use their knowledge and understanding of time in other tasks.

    Infant & Child Cognition Lab at Boston College

        » Infant & Child Cognition Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Numbers Vs Sense

    Find the link station “Are you paying attention?” in the Time environment. This activity challenges you to judge the number of red dots vs blue dots. Just like with time, quantity can be measured symbolically (i.e., with numbers) or non-symbolically (i.e., with a general sense, or greater-than and less-than comparisons). As you do this task, think about which one you are using and why. Is one approach more accurate than the other? Is one quicker?

    Activities to Try at Home

    1, 2, 3,… Many

    Big numbers are hard, even for adults. The difference is what counts as a big number. Scientists measure this by asking people to put numbers (big and small) on a number line. You can try this with your child (and yourself) to get an idea of how large number have to be before they become hard to understand.

    Ask your child to play a number game with you. The goal is to figure out where numbers fit on a line. Start by making some number lines that span from 1 – 10 and ask your child to put different numbers on each one. If that’s too easy, you try again with 1 – 20 or 1 – 100.

    You can play a similar game with time. Grab a stopwatch. Tell your child that this time they’re going to have to guess how long they had to wait. Tell them you are going to try between 1 to 5 second. To make it harder, try again with waits up to 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or even a minute. Waiting is hard, so you may not want to try different amounts of time across different days.

    Were bigger numbers harder? Did the range effect how well they did with smaller numbers?

Research Spotlight

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