Understanding the world through a child’s eyes

Have you crossed paths with researchers from the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Early Cognitive Development Centre (ECDC) at Queensland Museum before?

Queensland Museum hosts ECDC researchers each week as they test theories about inquiry-based learning and development patterns with some of the children visiting the museum.

This world-renowned research is facilitated as part of an established academic partnership between SparkLab and UQ and reveals important insights into how children’s cognition develops and changes during those crucial early years of life.

ECDC researchers typically explore the development of children’s learning, memory, creativity, language and thinking. There have been a number of findings uncovered throughout the course of these activities within the museum, which help us to understand children’s perception of the world around them, such as:

How do children judge others?

We all know we should be nice and avoid being mean, but what if we don’t have a choice? While research suggests adults are less critical of people for causing a bad outcome if they didn’t have any choice over their actions, this study found that from the age of 6 years old, children also think this way, judging a character who causes a bad outcome less harshly if they had no choice, and more harshly if they did.

By contrast, 4 and 5 year old children simply judge the character based on the outcome, and do not take into account if they could have acted differently to avoid it.

When do children start thinking of others as good or bad?

Researchers sought to understand how children’s judgements may change across the primary school period as their moral awareness develops.

As part of the study, children were shown a series of cartoon illustrations of individuals and animals, accompanied by the sounds they make. Children were asked “how okay is it to think bad things about [the subject of the picture]?”. Children were then invited to place the cartoon illustration of the individual/animal on one of three circles which all correspond to differing levels of acceptability; okay, maybe okay and not okay.

By conducting this research, researchers hope to gather foundational knowledge on what may drive discrimination in children, as well as how it develops and changes across their early development. It is hoped this research can inform future targeted interventions aimed at reducing discrimination. 

The enthusiasm of Queensland Museum’s young guests and various opportunities to learn about science through active participation and exploration, creates an ideal setting for ECDC researchers to conduct fun and engaging games for children in order to collect data and disseminate findings faster.

This, paired with the benefits of speaking with participants from a diverse range of backgrounds allows for broader applications of ECDC’s findings, providing parents, teachers and clinicians with access to the most up-to-date information about and perspectives from society’s youngest members.

Be sure to stop and say hello to UQ’s ECDC research team if you cross paths next time you visit the Museum!

For more than a century, The University of Queensland (UQ) has educated and worked with outstanding people to create positive change for society.

The university’s research has global impact and is delivered by an interdisciplinary community of more than 1,500 researchers at six faculties, eight research institutes and 100+ research centres.

As the exclusive Academic Partner of SparkLab, Sciencentre, The University of Queensland provides students studying science, health, humanities, business, education and engineering practical experiences that foster successful and meaningful careers.