Kids Are More Perceptive Than Adults Think
> 11/20/2006 11:55:15 AM

In their developmental stages, children receive endless amounts of information and stimuli: much of it useful, much of it distracting and much of it patently false, intended either to entertain or mislead. Where it was once believed that the minds of young children are absolutely impressionable and open to all sorts of manipulation, a new study caps a long series clearly illustrating that children as young as 4 can distingush fact from fiction more effectively than previously thought.

In the study, performed at the Universities of Texas and Virginia, 400 children aged 3 to 6 had to decide whether they thought given statements were based in reality or not. The questions varied from science fact to outright fantasy, and researchers found that, when children were somehow familar with aspects of the subject presented, they could better determine by association whether the lines were true. This contradicts common perception of children who believe everything they're told by any adult.

Earlier research by study leader Jacqueline D. Woolley presented similar stimuli to children and recorded their responses. By including a third "unsure" option in addition to true and false, researchers better measured the critical faculties of these children. The fact that many chose this third response indicates that their perceptual awareness is not as primitive as black and white and that uncertainty is an essential element in the reasoning process. Rather than accepting everything at face value, they question and analyze the stimuli before them. By the age of three, most are able to make clear distinctions between ideas and the real-life objects they represent.

Of course, many cultural childhood fantasies persist on a large scale (Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, etc.) and the report does not address differences in perception based on the relationship between the child in question and the participating adult. Many children are more likely to believe statements made by parents or other familiar adults than anonymous researchers. The perception of reality is a changing thing, and younger children find it considerably more difficult to distinguish one from the other. Exactly when this transition occurs can vary from case to case, but the established fact is that the way in which children look at their world changes rapidly from the ages of three to six, and the adults surrounding them may seriously understimate their intelligence by mistakenly thinking that they believe whatever they are told.

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