When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations

Nov 13, 2009

Curiosity plays a big part in preschoolers' lives. A new study that explored why young children ask so many "why" questions concludes that children are motivated by a desire for explanation.

The study, by researchers at the University of Michigan, appears in the November/December 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers carried out two studies of 2- to 5-year-olds, focusing on their "how" and "why" questions, as well as their requests for explanatory information, and looking carefully at the children's reactions to the answers they received from adults. In the first study, the researchers examined longitudinal transcripts of six children's everyday conversations with , , and visitors at home from ages 2 to 4. In the second study, they looked at the laboratory-based conversations of 42 preschoolers, using , storybooks, and videos to prompt the , ages 3 to 5, to ask questions.

By looking at how the children reacted to the answers they received to their questions, the researchers found that children seem to be more satisfied when they receive an explanatory answer than when they do not. In both studies, when preschoolers got an explanation, they seemed satisfied (they agreed or asked a new follow-up question). But when they got answers that weren't explanations, they seemed dissatisfied and were more likely to repeat their original question or provide an alternative explanation.

"Examining conversational exchanges, and in particular children's reactions to the different types of information they get from in response to their own requests, confirms that young children are motivated to actively seek explanations," according to the researchers. "They use specific conversational strategies to obtain that information. When preschoolers ask 'why' questions, they're not merely trying to prolong conversation, they're trying to get to the bottom of things."

The moderate sample size means that the study cannot be generalized to all children, but the research clearly suggests that by age 2, children contribute actively to the process of learning about the world around them.

More information: Child Development, Vol. 80, Issue 6, Preschoolers' Search for Explanatory Information Within Adult-Child Conversation by Frazier, BN, Gelman, SA, and Wellman, HM (University of Michigan).

Source: Society for Research in (news : web)

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Smellyhat
5 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2009
How did it come to pass that such an simple study on such a small population of children asking such basic questions with such predictable answers could be, at this time in the history of the study of child development, of sufficient scientific merit to merit publication? Perhaps there is something about the science of child development that I do not understand, but when the most efficient explanation accords so neatly with what one remembers of one's motives in early childhood, would not the burden of establishing proof lie mostly with those who hypothesized anything other?

I would also invite my fellow readers to marvel at the phrase "children contribute actively to the process of learning about the world around them." To be honest, I am not sure I could bear to place a child in such hands.
DaveMart
5 / 5 (1) Nov 14, 2009
Wow! When someone asks a question, they want an answer! Brilliant work!
Perhaps when someone wants to carry ou nonsensical work, they want a research grant?
mysticshakra
not rated yet Nov 14, 2009
Quote

"How did it come to pass that such an simple study on such a small population of children asking such basic questions with such predictable answers could be, at this time in the history of the study of child development, of sufficient scientific merit to merit publication?"

Well, it's either that or do real science, something we don't do much of anymore. Unless of course you are a physicist, then you just make everything up and spend you career trying to figure out how to get the Universe to conform to your model.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Nov 15, 2009
Well now, be careful. This is very much a "Mars & Venus" communication problem that has led to The Science Wars. When Aphrodite answers a technical question then she is very likely to narrate and conversationally reproduce the steps to arrive at her 'destination'. Ares may try to build a conceptual model that resembles his weltanshauung and that may produce an answer.
Smellyhat
not rated yet Nov 17, 2009
The moderate sample size means that the study cannot be generalized to all children, but the research clearly suggests that by age 2, children contribute actively to the process of learning about the world around them.


They studied six kids. Regardless of whether a 'Mars & Venus' communication problem may have led to 'The Science Wars', this is just plain bad science. Not so much the way the study was conducted as the way it is being used to claim a scientific basis for what is essentially anecdotal evidence.

Now, regarding a relationship between 'Mars & Venus' communications problems and 'The Science Wars', I feel that relying upon these purely conjectural popular pseudo-science notions to draw some sort of gender lesson is rather insulting to the thousands of women who do quantitative work in the physical sciences. The allegedly postmodernist critiques of 'The Science Wars' are more pertinent to this study than to more rigorous surveys.