Curiosity, Exploratory Play, and the Foundations of Scientific Inquiry

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

My work attempts to bridge the gap between formal theories of inductive inference and childrens’ behavior during exploratory play. Children are extremely powerful learners and there is near universal consensus that children learn through active exploratory play. However, there is considerable evidence that even adults have difficulty designing informative experiments and there has been little evidence for systematic patterns in children’s exploratory behavior. Here I suggest that children’s exploratory play is nonetheless rational: in particular, children selectively engage in exploratory play when observed evidence fails to disambiguate plausible competing hypotheses and when observed evidence is in conflict with children’s existing hypotheses.

Setting: 

Our studies are conducted at the Boston Children's Museum and the Museum of Science, Boston. Our investigations involve a range of ages including infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children in the first years of formal schooling.

Research Design: 

This is a cross-sectional project designed to generate causal [experimental] evidence. Original data are collected through observations [personal videography], forced choice procedures, and free responses to experimental manipulations.

Studies with infants may involve watching a video or live show, and recording their looking times or looking patterns with a video camera or non-invasive eye-tracker. In child studies, the experimenter gives a brief demonstration or plays a short game with the child, and the child may be asked to answer questions or be given a chance to play on his or her own. The session is videotaped, and later coded back at the lab, and blind-coded by a second researcher.

Findings: 

We show that children are able to recognize when evidence is ambiguous and that the ambiguity of evidence affects children’s exploratory play. Additionally, we show that preschooelrs are sensitive to the distinction between potentially informative and uninformative actions (and selectively perform informative actions), that children generate disambiguating evidence during play and learn from the evidence of their own interventions, that children’s ability to explain evidence may depend on the framing of hypotheses in terms of contrastive beliefs, and that causal language may play a role in supporting toddlers' ability to bridge the gap between prediction and action.

Publications & Presentations: 

PEER-REVIEWED JOURNAL ARTICLES:

SCHULZ, L. E., GOODMAN, N., TENENBAUM, J., & JENKINS, A. (2008). GOING BEYOND THE EVIDENCE: PRESCHOOLERS’ INFERENCES ABOUT ABSTRACT LAWS AND ANOMALOUS DATA. COGNITION, 109(2), 211-223.

SCHULZ, L.E., STANDING, H., & BONAWITZ, E. B. (2008). WORD, THOUGHT, AND DEED: THE ROLE OF OBJECT LABELS IN CHILDREN’S INDUCTIVE INFERENCES AND EXPLORATORY PLAY. DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 44(5), 1266-1276.

SHTULMAN, A. & SCHULZ, L.E. (2008). THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ESSENTIALIST BELIEFS AND EVOLUTIONARY REASONING. COGNITIVE SCIENCE, 32,(6),1049-1062.

SCHULZ, L.E., HOOPPELL, K., & JENKINS, A., (2008). JUDICIOUS IMITATION: YOUNG CHILDREN IMITATE DETERMINISTIC ACTIONS EXACTLY, STOCHASTIC ACTIONS MORE VARIABLY. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 79(2), 395-410.

PEER-REVIEWED CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS:

BONAWITZ, E. B. & SCHULZ, L. E. (2008). WHY LEARNING IS HARD. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: NATURALLY-INSPIRED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

BONAWITZ, E. B., FISCHER, A., & SCHULZ, L.E. (2008). TRAINING A BAYESIAN: THREE-AND-AHALF- YEAR-OLDS’ REASONING ABOUT AMBIGUOUS EVIDENCE. 29TH ANNUAL PROCEEDINGS OF THE COGNITIVE SCIENCE SOCIETY.

REFEREED CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS:

BONAWITZ, E. B. & SCHULZ, L. E. (2008, NOVEMBER). WHY LEARNING IS HARD. PAPER PRESENTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: NATURALLY-INSPIRED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, WASHINGTON DC.

SCHULZ, L.E. (2008, OCTOBER). USING THE “SCIENCE OF KIDS” TO ENGAGE ADULT VISITORS. PAPER PRESENTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE ASSOCIATION OF SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGY CENTERS.

SCHULZ, L.E. (2008, AUGUST). COGNITIVE SCIENCE AND EDUCATION RESEARCH, ENGAGING ISSUES OF SOCIAL CONTEXT. PAPER PRESENTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE COGNITIVE
SCIENCE SOCIETY, WASHINGTON DC.

BONAWITZ, E. B., FISCHER, A., & SCHULZ, L.E. (2008, AUGUST). TRAINING A BAYESIAN: THREE-AND-A-HALF-YEAR-OLDS’ REASONING ABOUT AMBIGUOUS EVIDENCE. PAPER PRESENTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE COGNITIVE SCIENCE SOCIETY, WASHINGTON DC.