How do children understand the virtual space?

How do children understand the virtual space?


Digital devices are gaining an increasingly significant position in the daily interactions of babies and young children. Oftentimes, they meet their relatives and friends not only in person but via video chat as well. However, our understanding of how children process events observed through these devices remains limited. Do they think that these things “actually happen” and have real-world-effects, or do they process and treat these digital events as something separate from physical reality?


Virtual Information? Young children’s understanding of digital space

In this study, we are interested in exploring whether children understand events differently depending on the medium through which they observe them (e.g., pre-recorded video, live video-chat) During the experiment, 18-month-old babies are presented with a simple event, during which an adult hides an object in one of two boxes. The children observe this event either live in-person, live via video-chat, or through pre-recorded video. Following each event, the children are given the boxes they had seen on video. We then record in which box they search for the hidden object. This paradigm allows us to explore children’s understanding of the observed events’ informational reliability. For example, if they think what they have seen over video provides information related to reality, then it is likely they will look for the object in the box it had been hidden in. 

Our study is still ongoing. (Autumn of 2022)


Virtual knowledge? The connection between digital space and Theory of Mind capacity in young children. 

How does the physical or virtual presence of others influence children’s Theory of Mind processes? Our ability to navigate the complexities of society effectively is predicated upon our capacity to attribute wishes, notions, and knowledge to others. We call this capacity Theory of Mind.

The technological revolution of past decades has allowed virtual communication to become a daily occurrence in our lives. This shift towards digital interactions has been accelerated even further because of the restrictions ushered in by the Covid pandemic. The lives of children may be influenced significantly by the growing foothold of online interactions, whether it be at work, school, or personal life. Therefore, the effects of virtual space have become an important area of inquiry in Theory of Mind research.

In this study, we are investigating the ways in which children’s Theory of Mind may be influenced by virtual space in contrast to physical presence during social interaction. By changing the location of an object during the experiment, we are trying to ascertain the degree to which children can understand the mental representations of others, depending on whether those representations match their own. In the first condition, experimenter two is present through an online screen, whereas in the second condition, they are physically in the room. Our study is currently underway in the 4-year-old age group. (Autumn of 2022)


The effects of virtual presence on joint memory

Joint recall of past events in the presence of those with whom we shared those experiences is a significant developmental factor in the formation of childhood memory. In our time, social interactions tend to happen not only in person, but increasingly through virtual space as well, providing an alternative pathway for gaining shared experience. However, our understanding of how interactions taking place in different experiential spaces may affect the recall process of joint memories remains limited.

In the present study of 4-year-old kindergarteners, we are interested in exploring the level of detail with which children can jointly recall a series of events taking place a week prior (i.e., the details of both a puzzle and a novel, exciting toy), and how this may be influenced by differences in the nature of the recall partner’s presence during the test’s first occasion. In some experimental conditions, the recall partner is physically present in the room during the first occasion, whereas in others, they join the event virtually through a laptop screen.

The present exploratory study aims at examining whether children remember the event with the same level of richness (e.g., the objects’ color, the sequence of events, the details of the puzzle etc.) if their partner was present only virtually, as they would in the case of physical presence.(Winter of 2022)