What types of information children prefer to pass onto others

Over my summer break, I had the privilege to work as a LuCiD Intern at the Lancaster University Babylab and the affiliated Active Learning Lab (ALL). These six weeks have been an invaluable experience, giving me insight into ongoing developmental research that contributes towards our understanding of children’s behaviour. I worked with PhD researcher Didar Karadag and Dr Marina Bazhydai on two projects.


Project 1 - Do toddlers preferentially transmit generalisable information?

The first project I was involved in investigates how two-year-old toddlers pass on information to other people. From prior research, we know that older children, after learning about a topic, prefer to teach generalisable information, that is, information that can be applied broadly (e.g., birds fly), rather than specific information that can only be applied narrowly (e.g., this bird has pink feathers). Although 2-year-old children are able to distinguish between generalisable and non-generalisable information, it is not known whether toddlers at this young age also transmit generalisable information selectively, like older children do. The findings from this study will inform us of this development of sensitivity to what to teach.

In the study, children first got to learn about a new toy - a novel box with a square and a round button. One of the buttons played a tune, and the other controlled the lights.  After learning about this box’s functions, the child was given two more boxes to explore. Across the boxes, while one component always stayed consistent (the round button made the light come on in each box), the other would change (when pressing the square button, each box would do something different - vibrate, play a tune, or make a noise). The diagram below explains it! As you can see, one button is generalisable – it controls the lights, but the other button is specific to each box in terms of what it does. In this study, we want to know if toddlers prefer to show one type of button over another to an adult who acts like they don’t know what the buttons do.

After the child spent some time exploring all the boxes, we would then send in the second experimenter and see what information the child would pass on about the boxes to that person after they asked, “what do they do, can you show me?”. My role in this project was to be that second experimenter; I would naively (acting as a person who’s never seen the boxes before) ask the child what the boxes did and encourage them to show me. Data collection isn't finished yet, and we look forward to learning whether children’s sensitivity to the nature of information develops early. The Registered Report (acceptance for publication in the journal before data collection) for this study is available here.

Aside from being actively involved in the testing procedure, for this project I also helped with participant recruitment and scheduling using the Filemaker database. As I had to ensure that the appointments would also fit my supervisor’s schedule, I developed my organisational and communication skills. Through this opportunity I feel that I also developed my management skills, having to manage multiple timelines through effective planning and prioritising tasks. The role also involved having to communicate with a wide range of people – from academics to parents to toddlers, and I have learned to adapt my communication style to meet the needs of each audience to ensure everyone had the information they needed at the appropriate level of complexity.


Project 2 - Selective teaching in different information contexts

The second project I was involved with (and still am as this is a series of studies) is with children between the ages of six and nine years. This study, similar to the first, investigates what types of information children prefer to pass onto a naïve third person. In this case the third person was a cute cartoon alien called Zarpie, who lived on a different planet and was eager to learn about all things on Earth. The child’s role was to choose what pieces of information to send to Zarpie. 

Before that, the child learned several new facts. Some of these facts were generalisable (e.g., dogs have paws), while others were specific (e.g., this dog has spots). We hypothesised that children would pass on the more generalisable information. As Zarpie has no prior knowledge about the topic, the information they pass on will be applicable to all dogs rather than specific information that only applies to some dogs.

This was an online study, conducted from the comfort of a child's home through a secure Microsoft Teams call. My role was to be the experimenter who introduced the child to the study and interacted with them throughout to facilitate their engagement and responses.


After being heavily involved in the study procedure and stimuli creation process, this experience gave me an appreciation of the challenges of experimental design in developmental psychology - all the factors that needed to be considered that before I would not have even thought about! After extensive training, I was tasked to run this experiment independently. This was daunting as I had been given a lot of responsibility for collecting the data, but I found it an extremely fun experience. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with all the children and listening to their reasons for teaching Zarpie facts. Didar and Marina were supportive all the way through by suggesting changes in script and how to organise slots with parents. At the end of my internship, I had tested 40 participants. As this study is ongoing, we’ll be looking for more participants very soon – you can learn more and get in touch here.

During the internship I was also privileged to attend the three-day international LCICD conference organised by Lancaster University and its Babylab members. This was an invaluable opportunity to listen to world leading psychologists on child development and ask questions on their cutting-edge research methodologies and topics.

I am thankful to Didar, Marina, Lancaster University, and LuCiD for the opportunity to be a part of so many projects this summer; it has been an amazing and insightful experience. I would also like to thank Dr Katharina Kaduk, the Lancaster University Babylab Manager, for her wonderful support and help in so many areas.

I have interacted with and studied a wide range of developmental ages, conducted research independently, and used a massive database for recruitment; it has been an immensely rewarding experience and extremely valuable for the next stages of my career for applying for a PhD at Lancaster University.

This opportunity has deepened my understanding of how research is conducted beyond Undergraduate level and my appreciation for developmental research. My confidence in my abilities has increased significantly and I can’t wait for my final year project to use the skills I have built!


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