Tuesday, 2 April 2013

How children learn scientific thinking from their parents

Researchers in California have uncovered preliminary evidence for the way children acquire scientific "habits of thought" from their parents. Megan Luce and her colleagues recruited 35 parent-child pairs of various ethnic backgrounds (22 girls, 13 boys; 16 fathers, 19 mothers) at a children's museum, and videoed them as they read through a book designed to encourage discussion about scientific, social and moral issues - including global warming, gender differences, the planetary status of Pluto, and whether it is OK to steal. The children were aged from 4 to 8 years.

Parents' comments on these topics were categorised according to whether they were "absolutist" (one side of an argument is stated dogmatically as fact), "multiplist" (a relativist stance, where each side's view is equally valid), or "evaluativist" (a scientific stance that integrates evidence to decide on an issue).

The book also contained pages on whether germs and angels are real, and the extinction of mammoths. Here the researchers focused on the children's utterances, and in particular on whether they mentioned evidence (e.g. "I know germs are real because I can see them under a microscope") or requested evidence (e.g. "How do you know that's how mammoths died?").

The researchers found that the parents' approach varied according to the topic, as well as their child's age and gender. For instance, parents of girls tended to be more absolutist when talking about morals than were the parents of boys. In contrast, boys' parents were more absolutist when talking about global warming than the parents of girls. Meanwhile, younger children were more likely to hear absolutist statements about Pluto than older children. "These findings show that children of different ages and genders may be likely to hear different patterns of absolutist talk depending on the topic," the researchers said.

Ultimately, Luce and her colleagues were interested in how the parents' stance towards knowledge (absolutist, multiplist or evaluativist) was related to their children's talk about evidence. The key finding is that parents' greater use of an evaluativist stance was strongly related to the amount that their children talked about evidence, explaining 49 per cent of the variance. Surprisingly, parents' scientific background was not related to their child's mentions of evidence.

"This surprising pattern of findings encourages further study of parents' conversation as a possible mechanism for children's developing habits of mind," the researchers said. "Children who are familiar with 'habits of thinking' that focus on evidence or justifications for 'how you know' may resist learning new information that is not backed up by evidence."

An obvious limitation of the study is its correlational design. There's no conclusive evidence here that parents' conversational style causes the children's interest in evidence.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Luce, M., Callanan, M., and Smilovic, S. (2013). Links between parents' epistemological stance and children's evidence talk. Developmental Psychology, 49 (3), 454-461 DOI: 10.1037/a0031249

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

With only 35 children, what kind of confidence were they able to have about differential patterns by sex and age? Did the article publish confidence intervals?

Anonymous said...

The headline suggest that these though habits were learned but they could have been inherited. Look at the twin research that shows no similarity in IQ and personality between parent and child, other than that which is due to shared DNA.

Anonymous said...

This article is a load of @&?!£. I am right and my kids agree with me.

Parry Dox

Anonymous said...

^Obviously an "absolutist". ;)

Alen said...

Parents of boys should speak with children more often about moral i think.

Susie said...

I found it interesting that the parents of girls were more absolutist in their education of morals than that of boys. It would be interesting to see if that were all morals like stealing or just sex specific ones.

Christina C said...

This research doesn't specify the ages of the children that were involved which makes it hard to have a complete idea of if these findings are accurate. If you support Jean Piaget's theory that children actively make sense of the world rather than soaking up information about it, then this research wouldn't be accurately supported. Piaget believed that children went through different stages of understanding and ways of thinking as they went through different age groups. Although Piaget did add to his theory that hereditary and environment could possibly influence the rate at which children went through different stages.

Unknown said...

Aged 4 to 8 (see end of first para)

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post and goes along great with what I am learning in psychology. I think this post deal a lot with the stages of cognitive development. It is known that children are influenced by there parents and often their parents point of view is their point of view. Children are most influenced in early childhood.

Anonymous said...

This article is very interesting with talking about the cognitive learning in a way. Kids come out with some of the thought process like the parents, which has to deal with DNA and genes. DNA is the double stranded molecule that encodes genetic instructions; the chemical basis of heredity. Genes is a unit of DNA on a chromosome that encodes instructions for making a particular protein molecule; the basic unit of heredity.

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