If you and your children are interested in participating in any of these studies, please contact Lab Manager Sarah de la Vega at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adolescence is a period of rapid neural change, especially in areas of the brain pertaining to social interactions. How does rapid brain development affect adolescents’ causal reasoning about social situations? Will there be a differential effect of this period of brain plasticity on causal reasoning outside of the social domain? We are currently investigating whether adolescents may reason more flexibly than young children, pre-adolescents, or adults in regards to causality in social interactions. We are currently recruiting children aged 9 - 14 to come into our lab to participate in this study, so please let us know if you have a child this age and are interested in participating!
We have demonstrated in previous work that children are quite good at coming up with experiments to try out to learn more about the structure of the world. But there are also a lot of things you can't learn through direct experimentation. For example, it wouldn't be very efficient to only be able to learn about the behavior of tornadoes by being caught in a tornado.
Luckily for us, we are generally surrounded by great sources of knowledge: other people! Can children effectively seek information from these knowledge sources? We are currently exploring how efficiently children seek information from others.
Some of our studies investigate what we like to call "learning by thinking" - thought experiments are a great illustration of this phenomena. While we don't receive more information from the world while performing a thought experiment, sometimes we do reach new conclusions. Why should we gain new information from knowledge we already had?
We have found that a simple prompt to explain (e.g., "why do you think x happened?") has been enough to cause learners to consider their observations differently, and indeed, come to different conclusions than their non-explaining counterparts. This is one fascinating example of learning by thinking, and we are currently engaged in other investigations into this topic.
Walker, C. M., Lombrozo, T., Legare, C. H., & Gopnik, A. (2013) Explaining to others prompts children to favor inductively rich properties. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Walker, C. M., Williams, J. J., Lombrozo, T., & Gopnik, A. (2012). Explaining influences children’s reliance on evidence and prior knowledge in causal induction. In Proceedings of the 34th Ann Conf of the Cog Sci Soc (pp. 1114-1119).
We are also engaged in cross-cultural research, comparing the effects of culture on the cognition of children from the United States, South America, and Asia. We have several cross-cultural studies currently ongoing. One study explores how children attribute actions they observe: We have found that American 6-year-olds are more likely to attribute actions and their outcomes to a person rather than a situation, even in cases where evidence points to situational causes. Interestingly, American 4-year-olds and Chinese 4- and 6-year-olds do not display this bias. Our findings demonstrate that these beliefs are learned over time.
We will also be collaborating with Dr. Tamar Kushnir's Early Childhood Cognition Lab to investigate cross-cultural differences in children's beliefs about free will. We will be conducting this study in our lab space at UC Berkeley. If you would like to be involved, please see the "Get Involved" tab. We welcome any inquiries you may have!
Seiver, E., Gopnik, A., & Goodman, N. D. (2013). Did she jump because she was the big sister or because the trampoline was safe? Causal inference and the development of social attribution. Child development, 84(2), 443-454.
Other studies investigate differences in the way adults and children learn. Previous work has demonstrated that in some situations, children are more flexible learners than adults. For example, children are more likely to learn a rule that conflicts with their previous beliefs about the way the world works. Adults are much more likely to disregard new information in favor of what they already know (their prior knowledge).
Why might this be the case? Might children just be more likely to change their minds about things in general? Or are they more flexible than adults only in situations where the observed data supports increased flexibility? We are currently investigating these differences in several studies.
Lucas, C. G., Bridgers, S., Griffiths, T. L., & Gopnik, A. (2014). When children are better (or at least more open-minded) learners than adults: Developmental differences in learning the forms of causal relationships. Cognition, 131(2), 284-299.