The Critical Thinking Project
How do children develop the ability to critically evaluate the information they encounter? This project examined developmental changes in how 6- to 10-year-old children evaluate information (Mills & Elashi, 2014). Children participated in several short tasks designed to measure how they evaluate information along with measuring other cognitive skills. For some versions of the task, children child also participated in a short interaction task with a parent to understand how parents and children discuss how to evaluate information. This project was supported by a grant from the Timberlawn Psychiatric Research Foundation.
Using Questions for Problem Solving
In collaboration with Cristine Legare at the University of Texas at Austin, we examined how children ask questions to solve problems. Children like to ask questions from a very young age for many reasons: to get attention, to obtain facts (e.g., “What’s that animal called?”), and to understand things (e.g., “Why do people have birthday parties?”). We know that in elementary school children have to ask questions to solve problems, but we don’t know much about how this ability develops. Several papers of ours examined this issue (Legare, Mills, Souza, Plummer, & Yasskin, 2013; Mills, Legare, Grant, & Landrum, 2011; Mills, Legare, Bills, & Mejias, 2010).
Learning from Listening
In collaboration with Judith Danovitch at Michigan State University, we examined how young children learn from overhearing others solve problems. Although young children may not always be able to generate effective questions themselves, they are at times able to learn from hearing question-and-answer exchanges. This research examines the factors that influence this abiliy (Mills, Danovitch, Grant, & Elashi, 2012).
The Development of Cynicism
We often think of young children as being quite gullible, believing anything they hear. But it is quite important for children to be able to evaluate the quality of the information they encounter: to understand that there are times when people might be motivated by their self-interest in the statements they make, and to know to discount those statements accordingly.
For these studies, we used scenarios that are familiar to children (sports competitions or game playing) and asking them to judge how much they believe characters making statements that are with or against their own self-interests. We also explored what kinds of explanations children endorse for how self-interests could impact what people say or believe (Mills & Grant, 2009; Mills & Keil, 2005, 2008; Mills & Landrum, 2011).