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Child Science Talk - Solving the Mysteries of Heredity 3. When Children Think About Heredity

3. When Children Think About Heredity
Yoshiko Sawai, Developmental Psychologist and Director, Child Labo


When Takahiro Miyashita asked the children what they knew about heredity at the beginning of the session, almost all of them answered that they had heard of "DNA and clones." Although they were familiar with some of the terminology of cutting-edge science, almost none were aware that identical twins are actually natural clones or that DNA is found in chromosomes. Dr. Juko Ando, a specialist in behavioral genetics, explained that human personality and behavior are also hereditary. The children listened with interest and laughter to his talk as they watched the video showing sets of twins who demonstrated exactly the same behavior regardless of being in different place. There were, however, differences in how the children interpreted the information presented.

After the talk on resemblances, differences, and heredity, the children were interviewed and asked if they thought that disposition was also inherited. Six out of eleven answered "yes" three replied "no", and two said "perhaps, in some people."

Among reasons for answering that disposition and personality were not inherited, they cited the fact that they did not resemble family members in personality despite a physical likeness (fourth-grader girl) or that personality could not be determined by heredity because each person has a different personality (fifth-grader boy). Children tended to interpret heredity as meaning that they resembled their parents and that differences with parents and siblings were evidence against heredity.

According to a Develpmental psychologist, Jean Piaget, children in the early stages of development focus on differences between things, but become more interested in similarities as development progresses. It may be natural from a developmental perspective that children should notice the differences with parents and siblings given that they make up the immediate social environment. Based on the children's remarks, children, including those who stated that personality was inherited, tended to oppose resemblances to differences and found it difficult to understand the fact that the diversity of possible genetic combination is responsible for making each person different in nature. It may be necessary to introduce other means and information to provide them with conceptual models that explain the ways in which they resemble their parents or not.

This Science Talk also prompted some of the children (fifth-grader boy) to think about heredity at the level of the human species. They asked universal questions ranging from the mythological to evolutionary theory such as "Who did Adam and Eve received their genes from? Where did they come from?" This would appear to give us a good starting point for the next Science Talk.

Since ancient times when science was philosophy, dialogue has been the vehicle for scientific thinking. Dialogue also allows us to glimpse the differences between the interlocutors in knowledge and style of thought. The exchange that takes place in dialogue may able to reveal the bias and assumptions that children have and make them feel the fun of analysis through questions. How can we make Science Talk a place for thought through dialogue? As I listen to the children and ponder this, I feel as growing sense of excitement.

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