Past Meetup

Food For Thought: How Kids Learn to Tell Reality From Fantasy

Details

Presented by Professor Jacqueline Woolley from the UT Austin Dept. of Psychology.

From Dr. Woolley's web page:

My research addresses children's understanding of reality, a topic with a long history that continues to intrigue and perplex developmental psychologists. Knowledge about how children evaluate new information and make proper assignment of entities to real and not-real categories is especially critical in the media rich age in which we live. Young children are bombarded with information and images offering a mix of the real and the fantastical: Elmo, a monster, teaches children about science, and Harry Potter, a human child, performs magic spells. Amidst this, children continuously encounter novel entities and events, and must assign these entities and events to their proper (real or not real) categories.

The goal of my research is to investigate how children make reality status judgments when they encounter novel information. I am assessing the effects of three broad classes (http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/psychology/faculty/jwoolley) of factors: (1) characteristics of the individual child (e.g., age), (2) characteristics of the stimulus (e.g., internal consistency of the attributes of a novel entity), and (3) effects of the environment (e.g., the context in which children encounter a novel entity). All of these are proposed to affect how children evaluate the reality status of novel entities and events.

It is imperative that children be taught to think critically about new information. To do this, researchers and educators must first understand how children identify and separate real from unreal. The findings of the studies in my lab have important implications for preschool and elementary education (http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/psychology/faculty/jwoolley), parenting, and clinical practice with young children.