Cognitive Science Colloquium
Paul Harris
Education, Harvard
“I don’t know”: Ignorance and question-asking as engines for cognitive development

In highlighting young children’s receptivity to, and appraisal of, potential informants, recent research on children’s early cultural learning has neglected their self-appraisals and their concomitant information seeking. Recent evidence shows that human toddlers spontaneously signal their own cognitive states; they use non-verbal gestures (e.g., a shoulder shrug and/or flipping of the palms upward and outward) together with explicit statements (“I don’t know”) to convey their ignorance. They also explicitly affirm what they know (“I know…”) and query the knowledge of an interlocutor (“Do you know…?”). Alongside such self-monitoring, toddlers also display an interrogative stance toward potential informants. They ask for information via pointing, via simple factual questions, and via explanation-seeking questions. Granted that children are likely to vary considerably in the responses they receive to such information seeking, they are likely to arrive at different assessments of the scope of human knowledge, the magnitude of their own comparative ignorance, and the potential role of question-asking in mitigating such ignorance.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bioscience Research Building 1103