Monday, March 10, 2014

Preschoolers Smarter Than College Students?

A new study out of the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Edinburgh claims that preschoolers can be smarter than college students at figuring out how unusual toys and gadgets work because “they’re more flexible and less biased than adults in their ideas about cause and effect…”.  Researchers said that technology and innovation could benefit from skills that come naturally to young children, such as exploratory learning and reasoning skills.

The researchers, whose paper was published in the online journal Cognition, used a game called “Blickets” and compared the ways in which 106 preschoolers between the ages of 4 and 5 and 170 college undergrads figured out which clay shapes lit up a box and played music when they were placed on top of the box (either individually or in some combination).

The research showed that the difference between the problem solving skills of the two age groups was the young children’s response to the changing evidence in the blicket demonstrations.  They were more apt at picking up the fact that unusual combinations could be successful, while adults mainly focused on which individual blocks would do the same thing.  “…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” (Alison Gopnik, senior author of the Cognition paper).

The fact that the children were more likely to entertain unlikely possibilities to figure out the problem confirmed the researcher’s hypothesis that children this age follow Bayesian Logic, a statistical model that draws inferences by calculating the probability of possible outcomes.  The researchers were in unanimity that children have a lot that they can teach us (researchers and students alike) about learning.

Posted by: Taylor Schille (6)


  1. It makes sense that when one is less biased, and has accrued less sense of patterns, one might be able to adapt easier. In the case of a child, their ability to acclimate to a specific challenge is encouraging. One might wonder if it is possible to train oneself to do this as an adult, by giving up one's biases to problem solving, etc.

    Posted by Michael Dailing

  2. It is interesting to consider if we as adults are capable of fully removing any and all biases. I think that in an ideal world it is something that we can do but to a certain point there is a reason that we have the biases that we do.

    Taylor Schille

  3. Interesting post, it doesn't surprise me too much that the children are more flexible in their thinking and able to do this kind of task more easily. It would be cool if adults were able to do the same in some circumstances it would certainly be advantageous.

    Posted by Morgan Matuszko

    1. I certainly agree, Morgan. I think the research could be furthered by examining when exactly is the point that older people begin to implement their biases and certainly work on some sort of "bias prevention" initiative.