New study says babies play like a scientist explores

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 9:05 a.m. MDT

Preschoolers can make deductions about cause and effect and search for solutions to problems in similar ways that scientists do, a new study found.

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Preschoolers can make deductions about cause and effect and search for solutions to problems in similar ways that scientists do, a new study conducted at the University of California at Berkeley found.

Children's brains are the same as ours. Adults and children alike can distinguish between a good and a bad hypothesis and learn from data, Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and study author, told U.S. News. "Even babies and very young children learn about the world in many of the ways that scientists do. Only when children do experiments, we say 'they're getting into everything!’ ”

The researchers showed children a box that played music in response to certain blocks that were placed on it, called a "blicket detector." Block A and B together would activate music, block A activated music by itself, while block B did not. Children ages 2, 3 and 4 years old were able to figure this out, CNN reported.

This research may even suggest that older students and adults could benefit from this observational play-oriented way, rather than talking about scientific concepts, Gopnik wrote. "Such studies drive home the point that children's play isn't frivolous; it's actually utilizing a degree of scientific thinking."

Children learn best when they can "explore and discover the world through spontaneous play," Gopnik said. Current pressure to make preschools more academic might be a counterproductive change.

In her research, Gopnik drew upon the work of Laura Schulz of MIT, whose studies found the process of intuitive experimentation mirrored in children's play.

The study was published in this week's issue of the journal Science, and the research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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