Although some consider statistics to be a challenging collegiate course, even a child can understand some of its basic concepts. In fact, before they can articulate much about numbers, preschoolers have a rudimentary grasp on statistics. New research illustrates that tykes are capable of using standard statistical evidence to recognize the “psychological causes” that influence actions.
Professors from three American universities had 72 preschoolers watch as a squirrel puppet choose a toy from one of three boxes. The special toy was buried in a box of toys containing either 18 percent, 50 percent or 100 percent of the special toy. After watching the squirrel’s decision and playtime, the kids were individually asked to select a toy that they thought the squirrel would enjoy the most. Since the squirrel is most strongly indicating a preference by plucking out the specific toys from the 18 percent bag, if the preschoolers were to recognize such a preference, then those who saw the squirrel select from this particular bag would give the squirrel this same toy at a higher frequency than those who used the other bags.
Indeed, the results mirrored the professors’ hypothesis, proving that children paid particular attention to non-random events. Two thirds of the preschoolers who saw the squirrel puppet select from the box with only 18 percent of the target toy chose to give the squirrel that same toy. Thus children who saw the box full of just one type of toy only gave the squirrel that same toy 29 percent of the time, recognizing that the squirrel puppet initially had no choice in the matter.
Afterwards, they ran a second similar experiment for babies, as research shows that by 20 months they “understand the link between emotional reactions and desires.” Though this experiment had minor modifications to account for the subjects’ age and comprehension, the results were similar. The babies identifying the favorite toy after the toy picker pulled from an 18 percent box nearly three times more than its 82 percent box counterpart.
Who knew that children so young could be so perceptive? The fact that these kids could be conscious of another person’s – or puppet’s – favorite toy shows that they can identify and replicate others’ thought processes. According to the researchers, the toddlers’ inferences based on statistics illuminates their “rapid acquisition of early psychological knowledge.” Evidently, it isn’t necessary to know how to count in order to utilize statistics.