Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Why youngsters try to do impossible things


When you see a small child try to fit into or on top of a doll-sized toy, you’re likely to laugh. That’s exactly what three co-investigators of a new study initially did when their own toddlers attempted to fit into a toy car, a miniature room and a doll’s crib.

Based on those personal observations, as well as their research as developmental psychologists interested in how young children understand symbols, the researchers from the University of Virginia, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set out to understand why youngsters, who actually know better, make such dramatic mistakes about scale.

Not to worry, moms and dads. The study of 18- to 30-month-old children, published in the May 14 journal Science, found these kinds of errors -- scale errors -- to be common in this age group. Videotapes show many participants in the research seriously trying to slide down miniature slides, squeeze into tiny toy cars and sit in dollhouse chairs.

"Even infants can discriminate the size of objects, so the question is why children sometimes ignore the fact that the objects are so small," said David Uttal, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and study co-investigator

The provocative part of the answer to that question fits with theories that implicate two neurally and functionally distinct brain systems underlying the use of visual information. One brain area is involved in the visual recognition and categorization of objects ("That’s a chair.") and with planning what to do with them ("I’m going to sit down."). A different area is involved in the perception of object size and in the use of visual information to control actions on objects.

The children’s dramatic failures to use size when interacting with familiar objects may reflect immaturity in the interaction of these two brain systems, said Judy DeLoache, Kenan Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia, and lead author of the study.

"In scale errors, the usual seamless integration between the two systems in the brain momentarily breaks down, and the size of an object is not incorporated into a child’s decision to act on it," she said. "However, once the action begins, children do use size information to adjust their motor behavior."

In deciding to get into the miniature car, children ignore how small it is, but then they accurately open its tiny door and aim their foot directly at its impossibly small opening. "There’s a dissociation between the use of size for planning actions versus controlling those actions."

"One reason this is so interesting is that similar kinds of dissociations occur in various neurological impairments in adults, but they have rarely been studied in healthy young children," said Karl S. Rosengren, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and study co-investigator.

The study also suggests a failure of inhibitory control, implicating immaturity of the prefrontal cortex. It is well established that infants and young children have great difficulty inhibiting inappropriate responses. In the case of scale errors, an action appropriate for one object is inappropriately directed to its replica.

The Science study’s implications are important for understanding both the perception-action dissociation in behavior of normally developing young children and the early development of inhibitory control. The precise nature of the breakdowns and factors that influence their occurrence will be the focus of future research.

The study of 54 children, 18 to 30 months old, was conducted at the University of Virginia’s Child Study Center (go to http::// and click on "Current Projects" to find video clips of the children in the study).

The youngsters were given experience in a playroom with three large objects followed by exposure to miniature replicas that were identical except for size. They were observed interacting with an indoor slide they could walk up and slide down, a child-sized chair they could sit in and a car they could get inside and, with their feet, propel around the room.

The children were then taken for a walk, and when they returned to the room, they found the miniature replicas in place of the larger objects. If they did not spontaneously interact with the replicas, the experimenters drew their attention to them without commenting on their size. From videotapes of the sessions, the investigators identified a total of 40 scale errors committed by 25 of the 54 children.

Scale errors were coded whenever a child made a serious attempt to perform on a miniature object the same actions they had done with the large one. Persistence in trying to carry out the impossible action, such as trying repeatedly to squeeze a foot through a tiny car door, was a particularly clear sign of serious intent. Scale errors were clearly distinguishable from pretend play with the objects.

Pat Vaughan Tremmel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Illinois researchers researchers find tweeting in cities lower than expected
21.02.2018 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

nachricht Polluted air may pollute our morality
08.02.2018 | Association for Psychological Science

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>