Method in mind: A methodological perspective on the child-as-scientist debate
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
During the past decade, an extensive body of cognitive developmental research has emerged that subscribes either implicitly or explicitly to the analogy of the child as an intuitive scientist. This analogy captures the idea that children resemble scientists in their attempts to explain and predict phenomena, and thereby directs research attention to the development of knowledge in science as a potential source model for cognitive development. Foremost among proponents of this analogy are Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff, whose theory theory account of child-scientist parallels takes the processes sub serving theory change in science and childhood cognitive development to be essentially the same. This thesis critically examines the theory theory and proposes an alternative formulation of the analogy in which the construction of meaningful relations between children and scientists is achieved by developing a methodological perspective on the debate. With this aim in mind, the Introduction comprises a brief review of the recent history of child-scientist parallels in cognitive developmental research and offers some methodological provisions for constructing a productive scientific analogy. Chapter 1 then undertakes a detailed examination of the theory theory, and argues that the major limitation of Gopnik and Meltzoffs account lies in its continued reliance on an inappropriate source model. Following this critique, Chapter 2 presents a general argument for a methods-centred model of child-scientist parallels and examines two orthodox theories of scientific method as candidate source models for the analogy. Having argued that neither account has the capacity to provide an adequate account of scientific inquiry, Chapter 3 details a comprehensive abductive theory of scientific method, and argues for its adoption in a methodological reformulation of the analogy. With this source model in place, Chapter 4 aims to establish meaningful relations between the abductive account of scientific method and the knowledge construction efforts of young children by defining a narrower role for the child-as-scientist analogy within an interactionist account of development. Working within this framework, compelling parallels are identified between the theory building strategies of scientists highlighted by abductive method and the data-to-theory moves uncovered in micro genetic analyses of children's problem solving. Having identified an abductive pattern of reasoning in children's spontaneous theory building, Chapter 5 extends the analogy to the processes by which children evaluate the quality of everyday explanations, drawing on a computational model of theory evaluation for this purpose. In Chapter 6, the focus turns to speculations regarding the cognitive origins of science, in light of the theory theory's appeal to an evolutionary warrant for child-scientist parallels. Finally, Chapter 7 provides a summary of the main arguments and reinforces proposals for the utility of a methodological perspective on the child-as-scientist debate by undertaking a detailed comparative evaluation of the theory theory and the abductive-methods account. A discussion of future directions concludes this study.