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Kids young as this skeptical of what teachers and parents tell them

"The research shows that as children age, they become more skeptical of what adults tell them."

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Children as young as six are skeptical about what teachers and parents tell them, according to new research.

They learn on their own through observation and experimentation - seeking out additional information by asking questions or by testing claims.

This is especially the case when they hear something that surprises them, say scientists.

"The research shows that as children age, they become more skeptical of what adults tell them," said lead author Dr. Samantha Cottrell, of Toronto University.

"This explains why older children are more likely to try to verify claims and are more intentional about their exploration of objects."

Previous research has shown six year-olds are cynical - compared to four and five year-olds. But little is known about why they are dubious of grown ups.

Two separate studies in the journal Child Development shed fresh light on the phenomenon - clarifying if and why children explore surprising claims.

The first involved Canadian four to six year olds who were presented with three familiar objects - a rock, a piece of sponge-like material and a hacky sack.

An experimenter began by asking children, "Do you think this rock is hard or soft?" All participants stated that the rock was hard. They were then randomly assigned to be told either it was hard - or soft.

Almost all who heard claims that aligned with their beliefs continued to make the same judgement as before.

In contrast, few of the children who were told that the rock was soft continued to make the same judgement.

The experimenter then told children that they had to leave the room for a phone call and left children to explore the object on their own.

Video-recordings showed most engaged in testing surprising claims - regardless of age.

via GIPHY

In a second study 154 children aged four to seven from the same area of the city were presented with eight vignettes over Zoom.

For each, they were told the adult made a surprising claim such as "The rock is soft" or "The sponge is harder than the rock."

They were asked what another child should do in response to that claim and why they should do that.

Results indicated six- and seven-year-olds were more likely than younger children to suggest an exploration strategy tailored to the claim they heard.

For instance, touching the rock in the first example but touching the rock and the sponge in the second.

With increasing age, children are increasingly justifying exploration as a means of verifying the adult's surprising claim.

The findings suggest as children age, they become more aware of their doubts about what adults tell them - even when they are equally likely to engage in exploration.

As a result, their exploration becomes more intentional, targeted and efficient.

"There is still a lot we don't know. But what’s clear is children don't believe everything they are told," said C0-author Dr. Samuel Ronfard, from the same lab.

"They think about what they've been told and if they’re skeptical they seek out additional information that could confirm or disconfirm it."

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