Scientific reasoning in early and middle childhood: the development of domain-general evidence evaluation, experimentation, and hypothesis generation skills

Br J Dev Psychol. 2013 Jun;31(Pt 2):153-79. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2012.02082.x. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


According to Klahr's (2000, 2005; Klahr & Dunbar, 1988) Scientific Discovery as Dual Search model, inquiry processes require three cognitive components: hypothesis generation, experimentation, and evidence evaluation. The aim of the present study was to investigate (a) when the ability to evaluate perfect covariation, imperfect covariation, and non-covariation evidence emerges, (b) when experimentation emerges, (c) when hypothesis generation skills emerge, and (d), whether these abilities develop synchronously during childhood. We administered three scientific reasoning tasks referring to the three components to 223 children of five age groups (from age 4.0 to 13.5 years). Our results show that the three cognitive components of domain-general scientific reasoning emerge asynchronously. The development of domain-general scientific reasoning begins with the ability to handle unambiguous data, progresses to the interpretation of ambiguous data, and leads to a flexible adaptation of hypotheses according to the sufficiency of evidence. When children understand the relation between the level of ambiguity of evidence and the level of confidence in hypotheses, the ability to differentiate conclusive from inconclusive experiments accompanies this development. Implications of these results for designing science education concepts for young children are briefly discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Concept Formation / physiology
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Science*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology
  • Thinking / physiology*