How well do children learn from different sources of information?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    As children learn about the world, they encounter multiple sources of information (e.g., parents, friends, teachers or books), which they must learn to navigate. This study examines the relationship between children’s pre-reading ability and their understanding of text as a useful source of information.

    In this study, we show children (ages 3-7) a toy that has two tubes (one of the tubes is blocked, and one tube is unblocked). Then, we ask the child to find out which tube will let a marble get to the bottom. Children are told that two puppets can help them decide which tube will work. Importantly, one puppet uses his own knowledge, and the other puppet reads a word, to help the child. Afterwards, children are asked to “help” a novice puppet decide where to put the marble. Finally, children are shown a color word and then asked to point to the color that the word is referring to. We are interested in looking at the relationship between children’s pre-reading abilities and which puppet they “trust” to provide them with information; do they trust the puppet that uses his own knowledge, or the one that reads text?

    We predict that younger children will not show a preference for one puppet over the other. However, we predict that older children will prefer to learn from the puppet who reads—but only in situations when the text provides meaningful information to help solve the marble task. We also anticipate that children will use the written information when “teaching” a new puppet about the tube game.

    This study will give us insight into children’s ability to recognize the written word as a reliable source of information.

        » To the letter: Early readers trust print-based over oral instructions to guide their actions

    Corriveau, K. H., Einav, S., Robinson, E. J. and Harris, P. L. (2014), To the letter: Early readers trust print-based over oral instructions to guide their actions. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 32(3): 345–358. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12046

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by Kathleen Corriveau, EdD, with the Social Learning Laboratory at Boston University

        » Social Learning Laboratory, Boston University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Sources of Information

    Children often look to others for information. When your child has questions about the objects in the Discovery Center, whom does s/he decide to ask? How does your child know who will be a reliable source of information? Does your child remember one particular volunteer, after getting interesting information from them? What made that volunteer memorable?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Instructions not required?

    When playing a board game, pull out the instructions that teach you how to play the game. Read them out loud and see if your child decides to listen to what is said. Does your child rely on the written instructions in order to decide how to play the game, or do they prefer to learn by observing others play? Does one of these strategies seem more successful in helping your child learn the rules of the game? Try to notice if this changes as your child grows older, or for difference kinds of games.

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff: