Research in the community

Studies in the community

Examining probabilistic reasoning

Lollipop study"The study with the lollipops"

In this study, we were investigating 5- and 6-year-olds’ probabilistic reasoning abilities. Recent research with infants has shown that children as young as 6 months old are able to think correctly about simple probabilities. For example, infants are more surprised and tend to look longer when a yellow ball is randomly drawn from a jar that contains mostly pink balls and only some yellow balls, than when a pink ball is drawn from the same jar.

With this study, we were interested in presenting more challenging probability problems to preschool-age children. First, we showed children pictures of two containers that contained different proportions of green and black lollipops, and told them that the goal was to get green lollipops. We then covered the containers and showed them an animation of a hand randomly drawing lollipops from the containers and placing them in separate cups.

In multiple trials with multiple different proportions in the lollipop containers, we asked children which cup they would choose if they wanted to obtain a green lollipop. These problems helped us to evaluate this age group’s probabilistic reasoning skill level.

Although this study is ongoing, preliminary results suggest children’s probabilistic reasoning abilities improve with age.

Examining information integration

"The study with the claw machines"

Claw machine studyIn this study, we were investigating the decision-making strategies that 4- to 6-year-old children use when given different types of information about a situation. 

We were interested in studying the reasoning strategies that children use when faced with these types of problems. To study this, we first introduced participants to two claw machines.  One machine had a broken claw, and one machine did not. 

We then presented children with the two machines filled with different proportions of grey balls and alien toys. We told children that it was their job to get the alien toys.

 In multiple trials with multiple different proportions in the machine pairs, we asked children which machine they would choose if they wanted an alien toy.

We found that with age, children were able to integrate the accuracy of the claw machines (broken vs. not broken) with the probability of obtaining the alien toy from a given machine into their decision. 

"The study about kids at school"

Baseball studyIn this study, we were investigating 4- to 6-year-old children’s abilities to reason and make inferences when given limited information about a situation.

We were specifically interested in whether children use base rate information or information about personality when deciding what specific children choose to do.

To study this, we showed children base rate information about children in a classroom. For example, in one version we said that a couple of children in the class play baseball during free time and many children in the class do crafts during free time.

We then gave them personality information about one specific child, saying, for example, that this child really liked to play sports. We then asked the children whether this child chose to play baseball or do crafts during free time.

Although this study is ongoing, preliminary results suggest that 4 year old children tend to use base rate information to make their inference about the particular child, whereas 6-year-olds are sometimes more likely to use personality information to make their inference.

Examining proportional reasoning

"The study about animal sounds"

Proportional reasoning studyIn this study, we were investigating 4-6 year old children's incidental learning of different proportions of sounds. Previous research has shown that infants and young children are able to distinguish different proportions and identify them later when presented with visual or auditory stimuli.

In this study, we were interested in: 1. Whether children can abstract a ratio in one modality (auditory, in this case) and identify it when presented with the same ratio in a different modality (visual, in this case); 2. Whether they can do this with little to no instructions given, in an incidental fashion as they perform a distractor task (colouring a picture); and 3. How sensitive they are to other ratios that are close/distant to the target ratio.

We first gave the child a colouring task and told them we would listen to some sounds that a friend had recorded at the park earlier. They then heard a string of dog barks and frog croaks in a 1:4 ratio (some children heard more dogs, others heard more frogs). After they were done colouring and listening to the string of sounds, we showed them a series of pictures of dogs and frogs (2 pictures at a time, such that there was always one picture of the target ratio - in this case 1:4 - and a distractor picture in a different ratio) and asked them to tell us which one they think the park might look more like.

While this study is still ongoing, preliminary results show that children may indeed be sensitive to incidentally-learned proportions, and may be able to match ratios cross-modally with surprising accuracy.

Examining social decision making

"The study about flowers"

Flower studyIn this study, we were investigating what kinds of information 4- and 6-year-olds’ prefer to rely on when making decisions about other people.

Adults regularly rely on social information to make judgments about others. For example, adults recognize that knowing what a person owns might allow them to predict what kinds of objects a person might plan to use in the future, and what kinds of objects a person knows a lot about.

This project is ongoing, but we have a few exciting findings already. For example, so far, we found that when two identical objects go missing, 4-year-olds will judge that an agent will go look for their possession over an identical object they may wish to have! This is in contrast to younger children who seem to rely more on desire information when making such judgments. These preliminary findings suggest children’s social reasoning changes with age.