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When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations

Date:
November 13, 2009
Source:
Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
Two new studies explore why young children ask so many "why" questions and conclude that children are motivated by a desire for explanation. In the first study, researchers examined longitudinal transcripts of children's everyday conversations and in the second study, they looked at laboratory-based conversations. Results indicate that when preschoolers ask "why" questions, they're not merely trying to prolong conversation, they're trying to get to the bottom of things.

Curiosity plays a big part in preschoolers' lives. A new study that explored why young children ask so many "why" questions concludes that children are motivated by a desire for explanation.

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The study, by researchers at the University of Michigan, appears in the November/December 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers carried out two studies of 2- to 5-year-olds, focusing on their "how" and "why" questions, as well as their requests for explanatory information, and looking carefully at the children's reactions to the answers they received from adults. In the first study, the researchers examined longitudinal transcripts of six children's everyday conversations with parents, siblings, and visitors at home from ages 2 to 4. In the second study, they looked at the laboratory-based conversations of 42 preschoolers, using toys, storybooks, and videos to prompt the children, ages 3 to 5, to ask questions.

By looking at how the children reacted to the answers they received to their questions, the researchers found that children seem to be more satisfied when they receive an explanatory answer than when they do not. In both studies, when preschoolers got an explanation, they seemed satisfied (they agreed or asked a new follow-up question). But when they got answers that weren't explanations, they seemed dissatisfied and were more likely to repeat their original question or provide an alternative explanation.

"Examining conversational exchanges, and in particular children's reactions to the different types of information they get from adults in response to their own requests, confirms that young children are motivated to actively seek explanations," according to the researchers. "They use specific conversational strategies to obtain that information. When preschoolers ask 'why' questions, they're not merely trying to prolong conversation, they're trying to get to the bottom of things."

The moderate sample size means that the study cannot be generalized to all children, but the research clearly suggests that by age 2, children contribute actively to the process of learning about the world around them.

The study was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Frazier et al. Preschoolers' Search for Explanatory Information Within Adult-Child Conversation. Child Development, 2009; 80 (6): 1592 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01356.x

Cite This Page:

Society for Research in Child Development. "When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091113083254.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2009, November 13). When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091113083254.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091113083254.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

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