How do children make sense of the crazy stuff they see going on around them? In the Study of Children’s Thinking we ask children strange questions and hope they give us sensible answers.Some of the questions we ask involve learning from evidence. We want to know how children use what they have seen in the past to make predictions about the future. The cute kids on this page have all just participated in a photography session. What will they learn about photography sessions that could generalize to the future? Do they think they will always be outdoors? that they will always smile? that people only wear pants when having their picture taken? Specifically, we are looking at the development of conditional probability judgments and sensitivity to sampling. In general, we try to argue that children’s use of evidence is best understood as inferential rather than as associative.
A second line of research explores social cognition, especially children’s normative reasoning. Often the best way to make sense of people’s behavior is to refer to rules, norms, or obligations. Why do kids think they were told to smile when getting their pictures taken? It is likely they understood this as something they were supposed to do: That’s what you do when getting your picture taken. Certainly, children spend a lot of their lives being told what they should and shouldn’t do. We want to know how children come to understand that normative “should”. The general idea here is that reasoning about norms plays a much larger role in children’s (and adults’) social cognition than we often think.