Tell me the how, show me the why: Children want books rich in causal information

Tell me the how, show me the why: Children want books rich in causal information

by Freya Lucas

April 16, 2020

Children prefer stories that are rich in causal information – information that explains how and why things happened the way they did – new research from Vanderbilt University has found. When such stories are made available to children, they could increase children’s motivation to read, sparking off a lifelong journey of enjoying books.

 

The researchers found that children have “an insatiable appetite” to understand why things are the way they are. While researchers have been aware of children’s interest in causal information, they didn’t know whether it influenced children’s preferences during real-world activities, such as reading.

 

Recently published in Frontiers in Psychology the findings could help parents and educators to choose the most engaging books to increase children’s interest in reading, which is important in improving early literacy and language skills.

 

“There has been a lot of research on children’s interest in causality, but these studies almost always take place in a research lab using highly contrived procedures and activities,” Margaret Shavlik of Vanderbilt University said.

 

“We wanted to explore how this early interest in causal information might affect everyday activities with young children – such as joint book reading.”

 

Starting from a belief that children would likely prefer books with more causal information, the researchers conducted a study involving 48 children aged between three and four years from Austin, Texas. Their study involved an adult volunteer who read two different but carefully matched storybooks to the children, and then asking the children about their prefered story.

 

“We read children two books: one rich with causal information, in this case, about why animals behave and look the way they do, and another one that was minimally causal, instead just describing animals’ features and behaviors,” Ms Shavlik said.

 

The children appeared to be equally as interested and enthusiastic while reading either type of book. However, when asked which book they preferred they tended to choose the book loaded with causal information, suggesting that the children were influenced by this key difference. 

 

“We believe this result may be due to children’s natural desire to learn about how the world works”.

 

The study gives the first indicator that causality could be a key to engaging young minds during routine learning activities. Future studies could investigate if causally-rich content can enhance specific learning outcomes, including literacy, language skills and beyond. 

 

To read the study in full, please see here

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