In a series of experiments, scientists tested how well 4- and 5-year-olds were able to rely on different types of information to choose objects in a group. In some situations, they were asked to choose objects based on color and in some cases based on shape.
Results showed children could be trained to choose correctly, but still didn’t know why shape or color was the right answer in any particular context.
The findings go against one prominent theory that says children can only show smart, flexible behavior if they have conceptual knowledge – knowledge about how things work, said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and human development and the director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State.
“Children have more powerful learning skills than it was thought previously,” he said. “They can show evidence of flexible learning abilities without conceptual knowledge and without being aware of what they learned.”
Sloutsky conducted the study with Anna Fisher, a former graduate student at Ohio State now an assistant professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Child Development.
Sloutsky gave an example of how children can show flexibility in thinking and behavior.
In a previous study by other researchers, 3- and 4-year-olds were found to be more likely to group items on the basis of color if the items were presented as food, but on the basis of shape when they were presented as toys.
“The argument has been that children couldn’t do this without understanding the properties of food and the properties of toys. So in order to be flexible you really need to understand what things are.
“But what we demonstrated is that children can acquire this flexibility without this deeper knowledge, and without realizing how they are being flexible.”
In their study, Sloutsky and Fisher had several groups of 4- and 5-year-olds participate in several experiments. In all of these experiments, children played a guessing game involving choosing objects on a computer screen. The game was played either in the upper right corner on the computer screen (with a yellow background) or in the lower left hand corner of the computer screen (with a green background).
They were shown one object and told it had a smiley face behind it. They then guessed which of the other two objects also had a smiley face behind it. In each case, one of the other objects had the same color but different shape as the original, while the other had the same shape but a different color.
The key was that when the game was in the upper right corner of the computer screen, the smiley face was always hidden behind the same-shaped item. When the game was presented in the lower left corner, the smiley face was hidden behind the item with the same color.
Some children were given training: after making a guess, they were told whether they were correct or not. These children soon learned where to find the smiley face.
Later, during testing, these children had no trouble correctly guessing where the smiley face was hidden, even though no feedback was given during the actual test.
But, Sloutsky said, “these children were not aware of what they learned. They didn’t know how they were making the correct choices.”
In several related experiments, the researchers tested whether children discovered the “rules” of this game – that shape was important when the game was played in the upper-right corner of the screen, and color was important when it was played in the lower-left corner– and whether they could follow the rule on their own.
The answer was that they did not figure out the rule or know how to use it.
Sloutsky said children in the experiments didn’t know the rules, but simply used associative learning – they figured out that in certain areas of the computer screen, they were better off choosing by shape, and in other areas by color.
“Children developed a running statistic about where they should choose color and where they should choose shape,” he said.
This type of learning goes on all the time with children, Sloutsky explained. For example, children learn that larger animals are generally stronger and more powerful than smaller animals, even though they know nothing about the biological reasons behind this.
The findings have implications for theories of how children learn and develop their cognitive abilities, he said.
“Children learn implicitly. They don’t need complex conceptual knowledge to show evidence of smart, flexible behavior.”
The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education.
Contact: Vladimir Sloutsky (614) 688-5855; Sloutsky.email@example.com
Jeff Grabmeier | newswise
WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy