Informal statistical inference

Can children make meaningful inferences about the social world based on statistical patterns of evidence?  Our previous work has shown that children as young as 2 are able to infer the preferences of others based on statistical sampling evidence (e.g., random vs. nonrandom sampling vs. no alternative; Ma & Xu, 2011), and that preverbal infants expect an intentional agent, but not an inanimate object with similar affordances, to be the cause of regularities (as opposed to random sequences) in visual displays (Ma & Xu, 2013).

In our recent work, we have examined (1) preschoolers’ reasoning about social norms based on different patterns of frequency information (Ma, McDonald, & Xu, in prep.), (2) toddlers’ ability to infer different mental states of others (e.g., preferences, dislikes, neutral goals) from nonrandom sampling behaviour (Ma, Montoya, & Xu, in prep.), and (3) the possibility of reducing stereotype formation in children through the facilitation of rational statistical learning (Chai & Ma, in prep.).

In a series of ongoing studies, we are examining the effects of scarcity on children’s judgment and decision making.  This line of work is funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant.