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Preschoolers use sophisticated logic to beat out college kids

tots and gadgets
tots and gadgets

Preschoolers with iPads work with a casual speed that can mystify those whose “Generation” begins with B and sometimes even X or Y.

But it’s not really a mystery. Because they are free of the logic that older computer-users employ, they rely on another, more applicable logic. At the University of California Berkeley and the University of Edinburgh, a study showed that tots intuitively use Bayesian logic to arrive at conclusions about gadgets.

UC Berkeley developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik was quoted on Science Daily: “As far as we know, this is the first study examining whether children can learn abstract cause and effect relationships, and comparing them to adults.” She is the senior editor of a paper published in Cognition and of a Wall Street Journal article about it.

Kids of 4 and 5 were compared to college students to see if they could figure out how a gadget worked. It lit up and played music when there was a successful attempt to place various clay objects on it.

The college students tended to be more rules-oriented around individual block placement even when they saw that approach wasn’t working.

But the preschoolers adapted their attempts to changing conditions, finding combinations of blocks that worked based on that new information. Forming hypotheses based on changing information is the basis of Bayesian logic.

Linda Chalmer Zemel also writes the Buffalo Books column. She teaches media writing at SUNY Buffalo State College.

Contact Linda at

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