Kids are drawn to books with causal information

April 21, 2020

Reading is an important part of childhood and a key to future success. A new study shows that children prefer books with a high amount of causal information.

Books and reading are essential to childhood, and a good relationship with reading can help set up a child for future literacy. A new study in Frontiers in Psychology shows that children seem to like books that have strong causal ties over those that do not.1 Previous research has shown that young children have a strong interest in causality, which is loosely described as interest in the function and structure of the world around them.

The researchers used a sample of 48 children from the Austin, Texas, area who were aged 3 to 4 years. The children had been selected from an existing database of families who had indicated an interest in participating in research. None of the children had diagnosed developmental disorders or hearing impairments. They spoke English more than 50% of the time.

Investigators decided to use 2 expository children’s books about animals that had been written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins: Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, which had a minimal amount of causal information, and What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? , which was full of causal information.

Because What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? had more words per page than Biggest, Strongest, Fastest (25.5 words per page vs 9.4, respectively), the investigators removed the variable of word count impacting preference by creating an edited version that made Biggest, Strongest, Fastest the causally rich book and What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? the book with minimal causal information. Half of the participants were read the original pair of books and half were read the edited books.

Each participant attended 2 sessions, which were roughly 2 weeks apart. During each visit, the child was read a pair of books by a woman. The pair of books was the same at both visits, but the order in which they were read changed. Following the reading session, the child was asked if they had enjoyed the book and administered 5 questions to check comprehension. Then the child would choose the book that he or she had preferred. At the end of the visit, the family was compensated and the child was given a book to take home. The same person would read to a child at both sessions and the style of reading was standardized for all readers.

The children had similar levels of comprehension for both books, which removed the possibility that book preference was linked to better understanding of one over the other.

There was a high level of enthusiasm across all book reading sessions. The causally rich book was the preferred book in both sessions for 43.75% of the children; 27.08% of the children chose the causally rich book at one session; and 29.17% chose the minimally causal book at both sessions. Follow-up testing determined that the number of children who selected the causally rich book after both sessions was above the chance value of 25%.

References:

1.    Shavlik M, Bauer JR, Booth AE. Children’s preference for causal information in storybooks. Front Psychol. Published April 15, 2020. Epub ahead of print. Accessed April 20, 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00666/full