Desirable difficulties during the development of active inquiry skills

George Kachergis, Marjorie Rhodes, Todd Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores developmental changes in the ability to ask informative questions, hypothesizing a link between the ability to update beliefs in light of evidence and the ability to ask informative questions. Five- to ten-year-old children played an iPad game asking them to identify a hidden insect. Learners could either ask about individual insects, or make a series of feature queries (e.g., “Does the hidden insect have antenna?”) that could more efficiently narrow the hypothesis space. Critically, the task display either helped children integrate evidence with the hypothesis space or required them to perform this operation themselves. Our prediction was that assisting children with belief updating would help them formulate more informative queries. This assistance improved some aspects of children's active inquiry behavior; however, despite making some updating mistakes, children required to update their own beliefs asked questions that were more context-sensitive and thus informative. The results show how making a task more difficult can improve some aspects of children's active inquiry skills, thus illustrating a type of “desirable difficulty” for reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-417
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Active inquiry
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Information search
  • Question asking
  • Scientific reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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