Age-Related Differences in Preschoolers’ ability to Change a Belief as Evidenced by Load-Force Adaptation
Over the preschool years, children’s core beliefs about the world go through significant changes in a number of content domains. Although the characteristics and timetables of these changes are well mapped out, little is known about why the later preschool years are such a fertile period for belief change. Here, we examined developmental changes in 3- and 5-year-olds’ capacity for belief change in a highly circumscribed context: changing beliefs about object weights. Because lifting objects is associated with stereotyped kinematics, kinematic analyses can provide insight into children’s beliefs about the objects they are lifting. Sixty-five children were randomly assigned to one of two conditions, the same object condition and the different object condition. Initially, all children were presented with a 1N object that they lifted 8 times. Then, children in the same object condition lifted an identical, heavier object, whereas, those in the different object condition lifted a heavier object that was different in shape and colour 8 times. We predicted that those in the same object condition children would transfer their beliefs about the load force requirements from the first object to the second and that this would result in a more gradual change in applied load force. Alternatively, those in the different object condition would adapt quicker to the new load force requirement as they would not have to change the previous belief. Children were also given a false belief battery and executive functioning battery. Results showed that five-year-olds in the different object condition were initially incorrect about the object’s weight, but quickly adapted and continued to use accurate load force for the remaining trials. In contrast, 5-year-olds in the same object condition were also initially incorrect and quickly corrected, but then reverted back to an underestimation pattern. Three-year-olds showed no evidence of condition effects. Exploratory analyses showed some evidence that high false belief performance was associated with quicker load force adaptation. Although preliminary, we speculate that the variability in 5-year-olds lifting behaviour reflects processes that are associated with keeping old and new ideas about the object weight in mind, and may be important for true belief change.