Below you may read about our findings from recently completed studies:
Learning nouns and verbs
Study run from May 2004 to December 2005
Ages: 2nd grade children
Study run by: Toby, Kristen, Gaby
It is a dogma in the study of language that there is an arbitrary mapping between the meaning of a word and its sound. However, scientists have known for many years that this is not quite correct. Consider onomatopoeic words, e.g., ruff-ruff is intended to resemble the barking of a dog. Moreover, nouns, which label mostly objects, and verbs which label mostly actions, also differ systematically in their sound. Nouns, for example, have more consonants than verbs. In this study we examined whether children use their phonological knowledge, i.e., knowledge about the regularities in language, to learn new words. This question is important for understanding in particular second-language acquisition. We found that second graders indeed use their knowledge of English to determine whether a novel word is a noun or a verb. Interestingly, depending on the situation, children in French immersion programs relied on either their phonological knowledge of English or French to do the task.
Children's information seeking
Study run from December 2004 to May 2006
Ages: 4 to 5 and 7 to 8 year-old children
Study run by: Kristen, Elizabeth, Courtney, Julie, Julia, and Robyn
Children ask questions to learn about the world around them. But how do they decide who to ask? In a series of studies, we explored whether children readily decide someone is a reliable informant or not based on a single question. It proved that they indeed do, at least under some circumstances. Preschoolers were most resistant. We found that we had to encourage them to think that an answer reflects whether someone is a good or bad informant for it to affect who they addressed their next question to.
Kristen Dunfield used the data from these studies for her Master's thesis, which she defended in June 2006. Thanks to all families, daycares, and schools who participated!
Do Adults Know Everything?
Study run from July 2005 to May 2006
Ages: 4 to 5 and 7 to 8 year-old children
Study run in Canada by: Elizabeth, Courtney, Julie, and Robyn
This study investigated when Japanese and Canadian children begin to understand that adults do not know everything that children know. Children played a couple of games that asked for example whether a child or an adult knows best what tofu/cheese is made of. At the same time parents were asked to fill in questionnaires to provide background family information and examples of common parent-child activities.
Our findings indicate that Japanese preschoolers are much more likely to claim that adults know everything than Canadian preschoolers. However, by age 7, children in both countries clearly recognize the limits of adult knowledge. Interestingly, Japanese parents were much more likely to acknowledge than Canadian parents that their children know more about certain things (e.g., child TV shows).
We believe that the differences between Canadian and Japanese children are due to differences in child-rearing practices in Canada and Japan. In general, personal independence is valued more in Canada than in Japan while the opposite is true for interdependence (i.e., the connections with other people). Thus, Canadian children may come to realize that they possess some unique knowledge earlier.
This study was conducted with the support of the Center for Social Stratification and Inequality at Tohoku University, for which we are very grateful!
Role of source-of-knowledge cues in children's assessment of reports
Although children depend on knowledge obtained from others, little is known about how they assess the reliability of verbally communicated information. We studied how children from kindergarten to 4th grade use phrases like "I saw" and "Peter told me" to gage the reliability of reports. These phrases indicate the source of the information that the speaker is reporting. Children heard short stories and had to decide which one of two people to believe.
Our findings reveal that children's ability to use verbal source information in the assessment of reports develops only around 3rd grade. One interesting explanation of these results is that it is related to the schooling process and the gradual exposure of children to more and more information that is disconnected from their everyday experience (e.g., historical and geographical facts). This kind of information may be forcing children to pay attention to the reliability cues in the information itself as the typical reliability cues they may rely on (e.g., observations) are no longer available.