What’s New Wednesday: Preschoolers Outsmart College Kids

boy with toy

How amazing are preschoolers? They may not have the

knowledge that we do, butmaybe their flexible thinking

processes could teach us a thing or two… (from ScienceDaily.com)

Preschoolers can outsmart college

students at figuring out gizmos

March 6, 2014

Preschoolers can be smarter than college students at figurin

g out how unusual toys and gadgets work because they’re

more flexible and less biased than adults in their ideas about

cause and effect, according to new research from the

University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Edinburgh.

The findings suggest that technology and innovation can benefit
from the exploratory learning and probabilistic reasoning skills
that come naturally to young children, many of whom are learning
to use smartphones even before they can tie their shoelaces.
The findings also build upon the researchers’ efforts to use
children’s cognitive smarts to teach machines to learn in more
human ways.

“As far as we know, this is the first study examining whether

children can learn abstract cause and effect relationships, and

comparing them to adults,” said UC Berkeley developmental

psychologist Alison Gopnik, senior author of the paper published online in the journal, Cognition.

Using a game they call “Blickets,” the researchers looked at

how 106 preschoolers (aged 4 and 5) and 170 college

undergrads figured out a gizmo that works in an unusual way.

They did this by placing clay shapes (cubes, pyramids,

cylinders, etc), on a red-topped box to see which of the widgets

— individually or in combination — could light up the box and play

music. The shapes that activated the machine were called “blickets.”

What separated the young players from the adult players was their

response to changing evidence in the blicket demonstrations. For

example, unusual combinations could make the machine go, and

children caught on to that rule, while the adults tended to focus

on which individual blocks activated the machine even in the

face of changing evidence.

“The kids got it. They figured out that the machine might work

in this unusual wayand so that you should put both blocks on

together. But the best and brightest students acted as if the machine

would always follow the common and obvious rule, even when

we showed them that it might work differently,” wrote Gopnik

in her forthcoming column in The Wall Street Journal.

Overall, the youngsters were more likely to entertain unlikely

possibilities to figure out “blicketness.” This confirmed the

researchers’ hypothesis that preschoolers and kindergartners

instinctively follow Bayesian logic, a statistical model that draws

inferences by calculating the probability of possible outcomes.

“One big question, looking forward, is what makes children more

flexible learners — are they just free from the preconceptions

that adults have, or are they fundamentally more flexible or

exploratory in how they see the world?” said Christopher Lucas,

lead author of the paper and a lecturer at the University of

Edinburgh. “Regardless, children have a lot to teach us about learning.”

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Berkeley. The original article was written by Yasmin Anwar. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.



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