Development of reasoning and argumentation

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As parents know all too well, most children learn how to argue all too quickly. What may look like a drawback is in fact an incredible strength: like adults, children are not only good at argumentation, but it can help them understand things faster and more efficiently.

     There is now an impressive amount of work showing that children can be skilled arguers, and from very early on: they can both evaluate arguments and create some of their own. These skills develop from the earliest justifications (that appear basically as soon as the two-words phase is reached) and can keep growing through formal training throughout all our lives. The children who tend to use arguments as a mode of conflict resolution tend to reach better agreements. 

     Hundreds of studies have evidenced the advantages brought by collaborative learning in school, as well as in more targeted experiments. A modicum of conflict can then become a blessing by starting discussions and motivating children to engage in arguments. 

     These results, especially compared to the mediocre performance reached individually in reasoning tasks are well in line with the predictions of the argumentative theory of reasoning, as argued in this paper. You can find a more extensive list of references in an earlier version.

 Jean Piaget as a child
with his familly.
(found here)

"The social need to share the thought of others and to communicate our own with success is at the root of our need for verification. Logical reasoning is an argument which we have with ourselves, and which reproduces internally the features of a real argument." Jean Piaget

Even though he later turned towards a more individualistic approach, Piaget had a very social view of the intellect in his early career.

Mercier, H. (2011) Reasoning serves argumentation in children. Cognitive Development.

Bernard, S., Mercier, H. & Clément, F. (2012) “The power of well connected arguments: Are children sensitive to the connective because?” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Mercier, H., Bernard, S. & Clément, F. (2014) Early sensitivity to arguments: How preschoolers weight circular argumentsJournal of Experimental Child Psychology.