Child estimations of danger as a function of age, object type, and context

Date of Completion

January 1998


Health Sciences, Public Health|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Cognitive




Accidents are a leading cause of death and disability among children in the United States (National Safety Council, 1993). Accidents are also a developmental phenomenon. National estimates indicate that accidental death rates for children steadily decline with age. Reflected in these data, no doubt, are changes in children's cognitive, perceptual, and motor skills, as well as changes in environment and exposure to hazards. The studies reported here take a first step toward understanding how changes in accident rates with age reflect developmental differences in how children evaluate potentially dangerous situations.^ In Study 1, 202 adults were given questionnaires listing twenty-five objects and asked to estimate on a scale of 1 (not at all dangerous) to 5 (extremely dangerous) how dangerous each object would be for a young child. Within this sample and across gender, age, and level of caregiving experience, individuals rated the danger of objects for young children similarly. Results from Study 1 were used to group the objects into control, salient, and subtle danger object conditions.^ In Study 2, 82 children between 3 and 8 years rated each of the objects chosen from Study 1 in three different contexts: baseline, typical, and hazardous. The goal was to learn more about why children get involved with dangerous objects even though they know that they can be hazardous. Children were presented with each picture and asked to rate how dangerous the object in question was by using a traffic light model. A 3 (age) x 2 (gender) x (3 (object) x 3 (context)) factorial Analysis of Variance was used to analyze children's ratings of danger on the 3-point scale. As predicted there was a significant interaction of context, type of object and age. Contrary to prediction, there was no significant effect of gender. The significance of the three-way interaction comes from differences in ratings of danger for the saliently dangerous objects across contexts. As predicted, younger children estimated less danger for salient objects depicted in a functional context, while the older children estimated that the objects remained dangerous across all contexts. The findings were discussed in terms of accident prevention programs and directions for future research. ^