The Adorable Reason Toddlers Think Birthday Parties Make Them a Year Older

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There are many exciting things that happen when a child turns 3. They have a more robust vocabulary, they can tell stories, and they have better fine motor skills. And while the typical 3-year-old also has a better sense of time, a new study conducted by the Journal of Imagination, Cognition, and Personality suggests that the average toddler may have an adorable  misconception when it comes to time and aging. The research found that 3-year-olds believe that birthday parties are an integral part of the aging process. This means that for many toddlers, they think his or her birthday party is the reason that they are now older. 

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According to the Huffington Post, the study was conducted after a reporter reached out to Jacqueline Woolley, chair of the department of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, to ask a question about what children understand about their own birthdays. Woolley realized that there wasn't much research into the subject at all, and therefore decided to conduct an experiment with 99 preschoolers from Texas.


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Woolley told the preschoolers three stories; the first about a child who had no part on his or her birthday, the second about a child who had two parties, and the third about a child who was turning 3-years-old (which was the fixed variable story). After Woolley finished each story, she asked her subjects to hold up the number of fingers of that each child would be turning in that story, meaning that for the child with no party on his third birthday, most of the subjects believed that he stayed 2.  And for the story of the child with two parties, the subjects believed that this child was turning 4 or 5.  

The study found that while children have an understanding that aging is a biological process, they also have a casual belief that birthday parties are part of the aging process too. 

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Woolley explained to the Huffington Post that the study “helps us understand children’s thinking. We see that they sometimes grab ahold of salient physical or social events to explain complex, unobservable phenomena." She added that with this research, "we get a peek into children’s causal reasoning processes, their basic biological understanding, and the fascinating ways children explain their world."

She goes on to assuage fears that children need to be confronted on this mistaken belief. "They will figure it out in time," she said. 


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