I Want to Know about My Train! Factors Driving Children’s Motivation to Learn about Individuals

Otávio Mattos, Cristina I. Galusca, Kelsey Lucca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Past research has shown that children are more likely to seek out and remember facts about kinds (e.g. “tarsiers hunt for birds”) than individuals (e.g. “this tarsier likes to sing”), underscoring the importance of kind-based information in human cognition. However, children also often care about and learn facts about individuals. What are, then, the circumstances that increase interest in specific facts? Here, we explored whether ownership, familiarity, and entity type influence children’s decision to learn information about individuals over kinds. Specifically, we asked 4- to 5-year-olds whether they wanted to learn new information about a specific item, or about that item’s kind, varying the item’s ownership status (owned by the child, an experimenter, or nobody), familiarity (a familiar or a novel kind), and entity type (animal or artifact) across trials. Children preferred to learn specific information about items they owned, regardless of familiarity or type, and kind-based information about items owned by a stranger (i.e., an experimenter). When asked about items not owned by them (i.e. items owned by nobody or an experimenter), familiarity shaped children’s learning preferences: children preferred to learn kind-based information about novel, but not familiar, items. This study is the first to reveal factors that motivate children to learn about individuals, laying the groundwork for future research on the circumstances that drive children’s learning preferences more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-481
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cognition and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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