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Children learn smart behaviors without knowing what they know
Date:6/16/2008

COLUMBUS, Ohio Young children show evidence of smart and flexible behavior early in life even though they don't really know what they're doing, new research suggests.

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
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Contact: Vladimir Sloutsky
Sloutsky.1@osu.edu
614-688-5855
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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