How do children and adults think about changes in body size?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Even infants can recognize that not everyone is the same and from an early age children develop positive and negative associations with different features. However, we do not know how children develop an understanding (correct or not) of how different features come to be. We are interested in exploring people’s ideas about why individuals have different body sizes, how and when these ideas arise, and whether these ideas reflect the complexity and variety of factors involved in each person’s unique shape.

    In this study, people (ages 3 and up) will see cartoon drawings of children with different body sizes. People will rate which child they would prefer to play with. People will also need to select between two competing explanations for changes in body size, both increases and decreases.

    We predict that children will show a preference to play with children of smaller body size. We also believe that a preference might develop over time for causal explanations that include a specific mechanism to account for change in body size. We predict that adults will have a more nuanced understanding, but that many will still show some bias.

    This work will help us understand how to best communicate information about body size to the public, particularly children.

    Tufts University’s Cognitive Development Lab

        » Cognitive Development Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    What Makes You Hungry?

    Find the “What makes you hungry?” link station in the Food environment. Before you begin, stop and think about how you make food choices. Do you eat the same thing every day or do you prefer variety? Do you try to pick the healthiest choices or the tastiest ones?

    This activity asks you to build your breakfast from the available options twice in a row. Much like going to two different restaurants, different food is available each time. Do you predict that having different choices will change how many calories you would consume? What if you were more or less hungry? What other factors might influence how people decide what to eat?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Reasons For Change

    Talk with your child about why they think things change. Stories can be a great place to start because characters often go through some sort of change. Why did a character get sad? Is it easy or hard to tell? Did the other characters understand? What might have made them feel better?

    As people get older and stories become more complex, so can these questions. Books, plays, movies, and television shows are no more or less likely to explain changes clearly or in a realistic way. Did you think the characters all acted as they should? Were their decisions cleverer than yours would have been or were they just plain silly? Would those two characters really have ended up together?

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