Little Pitchers Use Their Big Ears: Preschoolers Solve Problems by Listening to Others Ask Questions


  • We thank the staff, parents, and students of Apple Creek Preschool in Allen, Breckinridge Montessori School, Callier Child Development Program, First Christian Early Learning Center, Graham Cracker Express, Kindercare Learning Center of Richardson, Northhaven Co-operative Preschool, North Dallas Montessori School, North Star Learning Center, Richardson Learning Center, Saint James Episcopal School of Dallas, Temple Shalom Preschool, and The Children’s Workshop. We also thank Clarissa Lushaj, Alaa Khalil, Emily Corenblith, and other members of The University of Texas at Dallas Think Lab research team for their assistance with this project, and Nicholaus Noles for comments on a previous version of the manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Candice M. Mills, The University of Texas at Dallas, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences GR41, 800 W., Campbell Rd., Richardson, TX 75080. Electronic mail may be sent to


Children ask questions and learn from the responses they receive; however, little is known about how children learn from listening to others ask questions. Five experiments examined preschoolers’ (= 179) ability to solve simple problems using information gathered from listening to question-and-answer exchanges between 2 parties present in the same room. Overall, the ability to efficiently use information gathered from overheard exchanges improved between ages 3 and 5. Critically, however, across ages children solved the majority of problems correctly, suggesting preschoolers are capable of learning from others’ questions. Moreover, children learned from others’ questions without explicit instruction and when engaged in another activity. Implications for the development of problem-solving skills are discussed.