How do children and adults think about body size?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    Even infants can recognize that not everyone is the same. However, their ideas about what kinds of features are more stable than others develop over time. For example, when asked what another child will be like when they are an adult, young children are more likely to believe the child’s race will change than the language they speak. We are interested in exploring people’s ideas about whether or not body size can change and whether or not those ideas change with age.

    In this study, people (ages 3 and up) will see cartoon drawings of children and two different adult versions of each child. Participants will decide which of the two adult versions of the child they think the child is most likely to grow up to be. For some of the images no background information will be provided, but others will be accompanied with a story about the child’s birth parents and their parents by adoption.

    We predict that children will believe body size is less likely to change than adults and that they are more likely to believe body size is inherent and determined at birth (i.e., will match that or their birth parents).

    The factors that influence weight change, or lack thereof, are complicated. 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

    How Efficient is Your Walk?

    Find the “How efficient is your walk?” link station in the Food environment. This exhibit will measure how many calories you burn when you walk. In cultures where food is obtained at stores and restaurants, people typically talk about burning calories in terms of exercise – and therefore focus on maximizing energy used. However, for hunter and gatherers, and when food is scarce, efficiency is more important.

    Do children and adults seem to differ in efficiency? Do you think your walk influences your life and your body size? Would you want to walk differently? Try a different walk and see how it impacts your calories burned.

    Activities to Try at Home

    What Can Change?

    Ask your child to imagine what they will be like when they grow up to see what sort of things they think will change. How will they look different? How will they look the same? Will they still want to do the same things they do now? Will they like different foods?

    You can also consider your own views about what features of your self can’t be changed and what you could change, if you wanted to. Scientists are still trying to understand “plasticity” – how much we’re able to change and how we might be able to make those changes happen. Are there things that make people more or less able to change for any of the factors you are thinking of? Could you learn a new language or a new hobby?

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