The Critical Thinking Project
How do children develop the ability to critically evaluate the information they encounter? This project examines developmental changes in how 6- to 10-year-old children evaluate information. Children participate 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 participate in a short interaction task with a parent to understand how parents and children discuss how to evaluate information. This project is supported by a grant from the Timberlawn Psychiatric Research Foundation. A paper on this project is currently in press in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology (2014).
Using Questions for Problem Solving
In collaboration with Cristine Legare at the University of Texas at Austin, we are examining 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 are examining 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 are using 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're also exploring what kinds of explanations children endorse for how self-interests could impact what people say or believe. Some of this research was published in Psychological Science in May of 2005. It was also featured in the New York Times "Year in Ideas" and in Science Magazine as an "Editor's Choice"! You can read the press on the article in the "Links" section of the website.