In a new study, preschoolers outperformed college students in figuring out how to make an novel and unusual gadget operate.
The researchers say that the kids get the advantage because adults — with all their age and wisdom — have amassed biases and prior assumptions that make them less willing to consider unconventional options when dealing with a new problem.
Here’s how the study worked: researchers gave preschoolers a gadget that lights up and plays music when you place a certain combination of “blickets” (clay pieces formed into various shapes) on top of it.
Unusual combinations of the “blickets” could make the gadget work. Children caught on to that pattern, but adults took much longer to figure it out.
“These children unconsciously are making inferences, drawing conclusions, solving problems, the same way in many ways that a very intelligent scientist would. But they aren’t self conscious about it. They couldn’t tell you that that was what they were doing,” study researcher Alison Gopnik, from UC Berkeley, says in the video below.
The adults, on the other hand, ignored the training that didn’t match what they’d previously experienced about the world. That led them to make mistakes and have a harder time developing the new skills.
The study notes: “The very fact that children know less to begin with may, paradoxically, make them better, or at least more open-minded, learners. The plasticity of early beliefs may help to explain the bold exploration and breathtaking innovation that characterises children’s learning.”
The study will be published in the May issue of the journal Cognition. This video from UC Berkeley shows some of the experiments (and adorable kids) that went into the paper:
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