Academic journal article Science and Children

Preschoolers Use Statistics

Academic journal article Science and Children

Preschoolers Use Statistics

Article excerpt

Children are natural psychologists. By the time they're in preschool, they understand that other people have desires, preferences, beliefs, and emotions. But how they learn this isn't clear. A study published in Psychological Science finds that children figure out another person's preferences by using a topic one would think they don't encounter until college: statistics.

In one experiment, children ages 3 and 4 saw a puppet named Squirrel remove five toys of the same type from a container full of toys and happily play with them. Across all groups of children, the toys that Squirrel removed were the same (e.g., all five were blue flowers). What varied, however, were the contents of the container. For one-third of the children, 100% of the toys were the same type (so, in this example, all were blue flowers). For another third of the children, only 50% were that type (that is, half were blue flowers and half were red circles). Finally, for the last third of the children only 18% were of that type (that is, 82% were red circles). Later on, children were asked to give Squirrel a toy that he likes. The children were more likely to give Squirrel the blue flowers if he had selected them out of the container that had other toys in it.

More amazingly, the proportion of other toys mattered as well; they gave Squirrel the blue flowers more when the container included only 18% blue flowers, and slightly less often when the container had 50% blue flowers. …

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