Preschoolers’ Search for Explanatory Information Within Adult–Child Conversation


  • This research was supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research fellowship to B.N.F., National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Grant HD-36043 to S.A.G., Grant HD-22149 to H.M.W., and a McDonnell Foundation grant to H.M.W. and S.A.G. We are grateful to the parents, teachers, and children at the University of Michigan Children’s Centers for participating in this research, as well as to Laura Dean, Alex Doumas, Jenna Eisen, Jesse Emerick, Jason French, Emily Haas, Shelley Housey, Liz Hrivnak, Sara Miller, Courtney Petersen, Kristin Rohrbeck, and Katina Stowers for their invaluable assistance with this research. We would also like thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on prior drafts.

concerning this article should be addressed to Brandy Frazier, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2430 Campus Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. Electronic mail may be sent to


This research examined children’s questions and the reactions to the answers they receive in conversations with adults. If children actively seek explanatory knowledge, they should react differently depending on whether they receive a causal explanation. Study 1 examined conversations following 6 preschoolers’ (ages 2–4 years) causal questions in naturalistic situations (using the Child Language Data Exchange System [CHILDES] database). Children more often agreed and asked follow-up questions following adult explanations and, conversely, more often reasked their original question and provided their own explanation following nonexplanations. Study 2 replicated these patterns within an experimental task in 42 children ages 3–5 years. Children’s reactions following explanatory versus nonexplanatory information confirm that young children are motivated to seek causal information actively and use specific conversational strategies to obtain it.