Knowing to Ask and Asking to Know: The Reciprocal Nature of Inquiry and Selectivity

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Children are resourceful learners, capable of learning about the world both through hands-on experience and by engaging with other members of their communities. Questions play a particularly central role in children’s early learning, allowing them targeted, direct access to what others know. In this study, children aged 4-7 were presented with animations of puppet characters playing a Question Game in which one character reliably asks more efficient questions than the other. In three generalization trials, children were asked to extend their judgments of the characters’ questioning abilities to determine which character would be more reliable, which would be a better teacher, and which would be a more competent problem-solver. Children as young as 4 were able to identify the more efficient questioner and could generate their own overall assessment of a character’s questioning ability given previous experience with their use of strategy. Children did not generalize questioning strategy to reliability, but they did appear to view better questioners as broadly more knowledgeable and more competent. The extent to which children justified their choices by referencing relative information gain did not predict their identification of a better questioner in the generalization trials, though it did increase significantly with age and was significantly predicted by their scores in the Question Game. This suggests that, with age, children become more adept both at identifying better questions and in providing cogent explanations for their reasoning. Future work is needed to explore older age groups and develop strategies to help children make direct connections between questioning strategy and relative information gain.