Are Children Really Scientists?
Scientists conduct experiments, study patters, and learn from what they observe in studies. Recent studies from the MIT news site have shown that children learn in similar ways compared to scientists. Deborah Halber talks about how preschoolers don’t conduct experiments or understand statistics but they are unknowingly grasping patterns. They are using the observations they see to problem solve. Toddlers are starting to make causal inferences around them. Moreover, they think in a cause and effect relationship. They don’t believe something magical or spontaneous will occur; they need to know the reason why, the need to see the evidence.
Schulz and colleague Jessica Sommerville of University of Washington conducted a study on whether children would accept that the cause might work some of the time. This study consisted of 144 preschoolers.
Hypothesis: To test whether kids believe if the cause will always produce some type of effect.
Null Hypothesis: Kids will not believe that the cause will produce some type of effect.
Alternative Hypothesis: Kids will believe that the cause of something will produce some type of effect.
The study: The experimenters showed the kids that by turning a switch, the toy with a metal ring would light up. One-half of the group saw the metal switch work all the time. The other half saw the switch light up the toy some of the time. Removing the ring also stopped the toy from lighting up. Experimenters had control of the switch, and gave the toddlers the toy. They asked the children to stop the toy from lighting up.
With the switch that worked, the ring was removed. If the switch worked sometimes, the children didn’t remove the ring. They assumed that the experimenters had a sneaky way of ending the effect. They surprisingly took a small keychain flashlight, hidden in the experimenter’s hand and tried to turn off the light using that. The toddlers didn’t accept that it might work sometimes, they tried to look for an explanation. In this study the null hypothesis would be rejected because the kids believe that there was a cause to why the light wouldn’t always turn on. They could not accept it.
x-variables- the light switch working (that is what we’re manipulating)
y-variable- belief in some type of effect
chance- could be possible
It is interesting. I read this article and 2 other articles on the same subject and each study they used was about this same one. It seems like this was probably one of the only studies done on the topic of this. Of course there could be more, but most of the studies did just talk about this experiment. Maybe we could be dealing with the fil drawer problem in this situation. This study would most definitely need to be replicated. We would need to see if the new study’s data correlates to what this experiment’s data suggests. There would also need to be meta-analysis done. There aren’t that many studies done on this topic. And after all that, this would need to be peer-reviewed by other scientists to really pick out any errors, or misjudgments in the study. I definitely feel like this study does have a sharpshooter problem. It seems like they just studied the toddlers, noticed something, and went with it. Also the biggest thing I realized was that they never said how many kids took that keychain, they just kept it vague. This study definitely needs a lot more done, so people can really start to take out the confounding variable and see what’s really going on.
If I were to do a study on this, I would have 100 toddlers. They would be randomized and they would be split up into two groups. 50 and 50. In the experiment, the control group of 50 kids would see that if they press a button, a ball goes into the air (this would be elevated by a string). The other 50 would see something a bit different. They are going to press a button that might or might not make the ball go into the air. I want to test whether toddlers will look for an explanation as to why the ball does not go into the air while the button is being pressed.
Hypothesis: When the button stops working, the kids will look for some type of explanation.
Alternative Hypothesis: When the button stop working the toddlers won’t look for any type of explanation.
Null Hypothesis: When the button stops working, the toddlers will look for some type of explanation
X-variable-button working or not
Y-variable-kids looking for some type of explanation as to why the ball isn’t moving up
Confounding Variable-maybe how much sleep the baby got.
Chance- always a possibility.
I really think we could learn a lot from replicating this study and seeing what data we find. If we could somehow cultivate this curiosity throughout the children’s lives, we could change people’s perspectives on science. It really is good to be curious instead of taking this world for granted. What do you guys think about the study? Do you think we could find the same data with a replication?
Halber, D. (2006) Scientists show that children think like scientists. MIT News.