Developing an early understanding of contagion in preschool- and kindergarten-aged children
Effective Years: 2023-2026
The goal of this project is to create and test the effectiveness of a storybook intervention that focuses on increasing young children's biological knowledge of illness and contagion. The study focuses on the topic of contagion for several reasons. First, research has shown that in the absence of any explicit instruction or training in the domain of illness transmission, naive and often incorrect theories are often formed, which are difficult to remedy later. In fact, there is evidence that some incorrect theories about contagion persist even into adulthood. Second, teaching children about illness transmission is important for the development of health-related behaviors, which has direct implications for public health. And given the economic and social disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is timely to develop materials to help educators and parents teach children about illness transmission.
This project will create and test an informal learning intervention, in the form of a storybook reading, to provide preschool- and kindergarten-aged children with information about the causal mechanisms of illness transmission. Children will be randomly assigned to hear a storybook about illness that is designed to teach them about the causal mechanisms that drive illness transmission, a storybook about illness with no causal information about transmission, or a storybook unrelated to illness. The study will then test children's knowledge about illness transmission before and after the storybook reading and at a 3-month follow-up. Measures include the behavioral impact of the storybook by using an illness avoidance task to examine children’s behavior toward a potentially contaminated toy. Further, the study examines records of absences from the children's classrooms and information about children's health behaviors at home from the time of the storybook reading to the 3-month follow-up. The study uses these additional behavioral data to build an epidemiological model about the schools themselves that assesses the potential magnitude of this intervention on broader community health. Designed by an interdisciplinary team, the project will combine techniques from psychology, cognitive science, and epidemiology to create an informal learning experience with potential impacts that can be estimated directly. This research has potential far-reaching impacts on helping young children protect themselves from getting sick, developing an easy and engaging intervention that can be made accessible to parents, schools, libraries, and other educational institutions.
This project is supported by NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.