Children don’t believe everything they’re told! Kids as young as SIX show scepticism over things parents or teachers tell them, study finds

  • Children as young as six shows signs of scepticism towards what they are told
  • Psychologists tested kids’ abilities to explore surprising claims from adults
  • They are more likely to question contradicting information as they age
  • Older children also show better understanding of how to verify the claim

Children’s days are filled with lessons, whether it’s maths at school or their parents telling them to eat with their mouth closed.

However, a new study has found that kids as young as six start to question what they are being told by adults, by seeking out additional information or testing the claim.

The study by researchers from the University of Toronto and Harvard University investigated if and why children begin to question what they are told by authority figures.

They found that most study participants, between the ages of four and seven, tested surprising claims made to them by adults.

However, older children demonstrated a better understanding of how to properly explore and verify the claim, showing an increased awareness of their own doubts.

‘The research shows that as children age, they become more sceptical of what adults tell them,’ said Samantha Cottrell, from the Childhood Learning and Development Lab at the University of Toronto. 

‘This explains why older children are more likely to try to verify claims and are more intentional about their exploration of objects.’

Samantha Cottrell, from the Childhood Learning and Development Lab at the University of Toronto, said: ‘The research shows that as children age, they become more sceptical of what adults tell them’ (stock image)

Young children are known to learn through observation, experimentation and by what they are told by others. 

The latter is especially true of adults, like parents or teachers, who they see as authority figures.

When the children learn something surprising or conflicting, they will seek out additional information by asking questions or by testing claims experimentally.

Research has shown that the older children get, the more likely they are to try and verify the claims, particularly over the age of six.

The psychologists carried out two studies, published yesterday in Child Development, to investigate why children seek out information in response to being told something surprising by adults.

Inquisitive children ask their parents an average of more than 200 questions every week and often leave them having to search online for answers, a survey has found. 

The study found that the most asked questions involve Father Christmas, and include, ‘How old is Father Christmas?’ and ‘Who gives Santa presents?.

Other popular subjects included questions about animals which are asked by 47 per cent of children, maths asked by 45 per cent and spelling asked by 41 per cent.

But the survey of more than 2,000 parents of children aged three to 12 in the UK, found that an incredible 61 per cent were often asked questions they did not know the answer to.

In the first study, 109 children between the ages of four and six were presented with three familiar objects: a rock, a piece of sponge-like material and a hacky sack.

An experimenter would then ask the children ‘do you think this rock is hard or soft?’, to which they all responded that it was hard.

They were then told something that either supported or contradicted this belief, like ‘that’s right, this rock is hard’ or ‘actually, this rock is soft, not hard’.

The children were then asked again if the rock was hard or soft, and almost all the children responded with what they were just told by the experimenter.

The experimenter then left the children to explore the object on their own, and their behaviour was recorded.

Most children who were told that the rock was soft engaged in testing surprising claims by reaching out to touch it. 

According to the researchers, this could show children’s ability to use exploration to test more complex claims increases as they age.

Their motivation for testing the claim may also change, as younger children could be exploring what they were told out of a desire to experience the surprising event.

However, older children could be exploring because they were sceptical of what they had been told.

Results show that children increasingly justify their exploration as a means of verifying the adult’s surprising claim as they age. This suggests that they are becoming more aware of their doubts about what adults tell them, so their exploration strategies becomes more intentional, targeted and efficient (stock image)

The second study involved telling 154 children between the ages of four and seven over Zoom that an adult had made a surprising claim.

The children were then asked what another child should do in response to that claim and why they should do that.

Six and seven-year-old children were more likely than younger children to suggest an exploration strategy tailored to the claim they heard, as opposed to offering none or an unrelated exploration.

For example, when they were told ‘the rock is soft’, the older children were more likely to suggest touching the rock.

When told ‘the sponge is harder than the rock’ they would suggest touching both the sponge and the rock in response.

The results also show that children increasingly justify their exploration as a means of verifying the adult’s surprising claim as they age.

This suggests that they are becoming more aware of their doubts about what adults tell them, so their exploration strategies becomes more intentional, targeted and efficient.

‘There is still a lot we don’t know,’ said Samuel Ronfard, assistant professor at the University of Toronto.  

‘But, what’s clear is that children don’t believe everything they are told. They think about what they’ve been told and if they’re sceptical, they seek out additional information that could confirm or disconfirm it.’

Children as young as FIVE perceive thinner people as happier and more attractive than overweight people, study finds

Children as young as five perceive thinner people as happier and more attractive than overweight people, a study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Gdańsk showed preschool boys and girls images of men and women with various body types, and asked them to rate who was the most attractive and happiest.

The results revealed that for both male and female bodies, the children rated the obese bodies as the least attractive and least happy.

‘Preschoolers can identify physically attractive individuals, and they might already form attributions regarding the looks of adults (especially women), which in turn may constitute a foundation for their future concept of beauty-related happiness,’ the researchers wrote in their study. 

Read more here 

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