Exploring informal science interventions to promote children's understanding of natural categories


Categories carve up the world in a structured way, allowing people to inductively reason about the properties of novel exemplars. Children are still in the process of learning category structure, and often fail to leverage the inductive power of these representations to their advantage. For example, young children generally fail to recognize the value of sampling diverse exemplars to support category-wide generalization. This study investigates whether teaching children the structure within a natural category increases diversity-based inductive reasoning. In an informal science learning environment, we presented 259 children aged 5 to 8 years with exemplars of the three main types of birds: raptors, songbirds, and waterbirds. After a short dialogue pointing out the various within-type similarities and between-type differences, children’s diversity-based inductive reasoning did not significantly improve, despite them evidencing a better understanding of the category’s structure. Instead, children tended to avoid sampling waterbirds, the least typical cluster of birds. These patterns suggest that children’s neglect of sample diversity is unlikely to be solely due to their relative ignorance of category structure.

Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society