Question, explanation, follow-up: a global mechanism for learning from others?
Kurkul, Katelyn Elizabeth
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Five studies were conducted examining a pattern of interaction children use as a mechanism for learning from others. The three components of this interaction pattern consisted of children’s questions, adults’ explanations and children’s follow-up. I was interested in how individual differences might influence this interaction pattern. In Study 1, I performed a secondary data analysis to explore the entire pattern of interaction. Analyses revealed that children across diverse socioeconomic groups asked a similar proportion of information seeking questions in daily conversations with caregivers. However, when looking at the responses children received, caregivers from low-SES families offered significantly fewer exemplary responses (those that include explanations) to causal questions than mid-SES caregivers. When exploring the quality of explanations that caregivers offered, low-SES caregivers provided more circular explanations while mid-SES caregivers provided more non-circular explanations. Finally, when exploring children’s follow-up to unsatisfactory responses, no differences were found when looking at fact-based questions. Indeed, children from low-SES and mid-SES families were most likely to re-ask their original question which indicates that children across diverse backgrounds purposely use their questions to acquire new knowledge. Significant differences were found when looking at follow-up to unsatisfactory responses to causal questions. Mid-SES children were significantly more likely to provide their own explanations. These findings extend previous work and suggest that this interaction pattern may not look the same across diverse backgrounds. Studies 2, 3 and 4 explored the first half of this interaction pattern: questions and adult explanations. Here I focused on 3- and 5-year-olds’ evaluation of non-circular and circular explanations, and their use of such explanations to determine informant credibility. Whereas 5-year-olds demonstrated a selective preference for non-circular over circular explanations (Study 2: long explanations; Study 3: short explanations), 3-year-olds only demonstrated a preference for the non-circular when the explanations were shortened (Study 3). Children’s evaluation of the explanations extended to their inferences about the informants’ future credibility. Both age groups demonstrated a selective preference for learning novel explanations from an informant who had previously provided non-circular explanations – although only 5-year-olds also preferred to learn novel labels from her. However, when looking at individual differences in these preferences by socioeconomic status (Study 4) children from low-SES families selectively preferred informants who provided circular explanations, whereas mid-SES children showed a preference for non-circular explanations. Study 5 explored the second half of the interaction pattern: adult explanations and children’s follow-up. Here I explored individual differences in epistemological beliefs and their impact on caregiver’s explanations and children’s subsequent learning. Epistemological stance predicted children’s learning. Children of caregivers who adopted an evaluativist stance learned more than children of caregivers who used an absolutist stance. Taken together, these results have the potential to inform caregivers, daycare providers and classroom teachers about the importance of the responses they offer to children’s questions. These responses are integral to the question, explanation, follow-up pattern of interaction that children use when acquiring new knowledge from others. Understanding how individual differences impact this interaction pattern may help decrease cognitive disparities between children across sociocultural contexts before the onset of formal schooling.