Research at Bing 2021–2022

By Chia-wa Yeh, Head Teacher and Research Coordinator 

Do children prefer to get feedback about their work from an adult who gives praise selectively rather than someone who praises everything, regardless of the quality? Stanford University researchers explored this and other questions by working with children at Bing Nursery School this year.

Bing serves Stanford as a laboratory for research in child development. It was built with a grant from the National Science Foundation along with a gift from Anna Bing Arnold and Peter Bing, mother-and-son philanthropists. Since the school’s opening in 1966, many researchers in Stanford’s Department of Psychology have relied on Bing to advance their understanding of developmental psychology. 

Nearly six decades later, Bing continues to support Stanford scholars in their research, while providing graduate students with hands-on training in research methods under the guidance of their faculty advisers. Most studies take place in the “game rooms” located around the school atrium and are designed in game-like formats to be engaging for children. Insights from the studies contribute to the body of knowledge about what children think and how they learn. 

This unique learning environment not only prepares young scholars for careers in academia, it can shape their professional trajectories. In commemorating our 50th anniversary in 2016, we invited researchers to reflect on their experiences at Bing:

Vikram Jaswal, professor of psychology, University of Virginia: 

“My experience as a graduate student and researcher (aka “game room teacher”) at Bing profoundly shaped my professional and personal life. The staff at Bing taught me how to think about children, helped me transform my lofty research questions into realistic (and fun!) ‘games,’ and impressed upon me lessons about interacting with children that I try to pass on to my own students (and with my own child) to this day. … The thousands of children who participated in my studies at Bing helped to launch my career as a developmental psychologist, and I will be forever grateful to them.” 

Andrei Cimpian, professor of psychology, New York University: 

“Bing was just an amazing resource and an essential element of my graduate training. It’s truly a researcher’s paradise, a fact that I’ve grown even more aware of after leaving and seeing first-hand the challenges of conducting research in schools. … Many of my research ideas have been inspired by my conversations with the wonderfully bright children at Bing. It’s hard for me to even imagine what my research would have been like without this formative experience.”

Bing welcomed researchers back to the school in the fall of 2021 after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted for in-person research. They were once again a part of the classroom, interacting with children to get to know them. Children, in turn, enjoyed talking and engaging with the “game room teachers.”

Looking ahead, here are summaries of studies conducted during the 2021–22 academic year: 

In a follow-up study about children’s concept of the self by psychology professor Hyowon Gweon and her former doctoral student Mika Asaba, children were invited to make two simple line tracings. Then they watched videos of two teachers giving feedback on tracings done by others. Some of the tracings were close to the line drawing, while some were far from it. One teacher praised only the tracings close to the line drawing, while another teacher praised all tracings. Researchers then told children they could take their best tracing back to their classroom and were asked to choose one teacher in the video to help them figure this out. Children pointed to the picture of one of the two teachers. The researchers are interested in whether children will choose the selective teacher when they want to decide which of their tracings is of better quality. 

In another study, first-year psychology graduate student Peter Zhu explores whether children are curious about what others think of them. Children were invited to draw a picture and were told that it would receive a sticker if the researcher thought it was good. (All children’s drawings received a sticker.) Zhu briefly stepped outside the room while still observing the child. Either the child’s drawing or one by another child was left in a file folder on the drawing table. Zhu is interested in whether children peek to see if they received a sticker as opposed to when the drawing of an unfamiliar child is left on the table. 

In a pilot study, Teresa Garcia, manager of the Social Learning Lab, looked at whether children are sensitive to the amount of time needed to teach the same material to individuals versus a group. She introduced children to five toy animals, each in their own individual house. In this play scenario, the animals wanted to learn names of household objects from the child. In one condition the five animals wanted to learn different words, while in another condition all the animals wanted to learn the same ones. Garcia investigated whether children spontaneously taught the five animals as a group in the latter situation.

In another study by third-year psychology graduate student Rondeline Williams, children were presented with four miniature wooden houses and two toy characters. Children took the characters to visit each house, one by one. When the doors of each house opened, children heard different sounds coming from the houses (e.g., loud conversation, music, silence). Researchers asked children if the characters should engage in activities such as reading, sleeping or dancing in the respective houses. Williams is interested in whether children consider noise level when choosing an environment for different types of activities.

Children watched animations of appealing creatures on a laptop monitor in a study by second-year psychology graduate student Anjie Cao. When they finished, they could press the spacebar on the keyboard to move to a different animation. Many animations repeated but occasionally novel creatures appeared. Cao investigated whether children looked longer when novel creatures appeared and how such curiosity might shape children’s learning.

Devon Spika, a visiting graduate student researcher in economics, examines what children understand about the roles of mothers and fathers and whether children’s story books affect children’s understandings of gender norms. Children played guessing games and reaction-time games in response to different voices, images and/or words to elicit implicit assumptions. One group of children listened to a recording of a book portraying mothers in both family and career roles while watching corresponding illustrations on a laptop computer. The other group listened to a recording of a book about two children’s adventures in nature, also with corresponding illustrations on the display. Children participated in a follow-up session with similar games about two weeks later. Parents were invited to complete an online survey. 

Pairs of children played a matching game in second-year psychology graduate student Veronica Boyce’s study. Boyce designed cards with four abstract tangram shapes. One child had a card with an image on it and described it to the other child, who had two cards to choose from. One of the cards was a match. Children took turns describing and matching. The abstract images were used repeatedly and in different pairs. Boyce is interested in whether children gradually develop shorthand names for the shapes after repeated experiences describing and matching them.