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Our Current Research

Thinking about the Knowledge of Others

Several projects in our lab examine how preschool-aged and elementary school-aged children think about what others are likely to know, and how this influences their learning. For instance, as adults we recognize that just because we trust our doctor to answer questions about a physical ailment does not mean that we should trust our doctor to answer questions about other issues, like how to fix a flat tire or where the best place in town is to get cupcakes. These projects examine how children determine what it is someone is likely to know as well as how much they take into account the knowledge of others when learning from them.

Knowing When to Answer and When to Defer to Others

It can be challenging to know when to answer a question oneself and when to go to another source for answers. This project examines the factors that influence preschool-aged children's success at this task.

What Makes an Explanation a GOOD Explanation?

For this project, we are working with elementary school-aged children to understand more about how they evaluate the quality of the explanations they hear.

The Development of Problem-Solving Skills

Supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, this project examines ways to help preschool-aged children determine which source will be most helpful in answering their questions for problem solving. We also examine other aspects of problem solving, such as the ability to ask good questions and the ability to apply the information gathered. Finally, we are looking at several other skills (like memory) to see how they relate to problem-solving success. We are currently writing this work up for publication.

Completed Research

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).


Lab Newsletter

For more information about our latest findings, please feel free to download a PDF file of our lab newsletter, which is written for families and teachers that have participated in our research.













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School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences
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