September 29, 2005

Freaking Out Children's Tiny Minds For Science

I'd always wondered when the kid was going to stop grabbing at the balloon string in Goodnight Gorilla, now I know.

A potentially huge research finding--that children under three don't develop the capacity for symbolic thinking--that could have far-reaching implications for how babies and toddlers are taught, has come out of a hilarious experiment that sounds like it was devised by deadpan comedian Steven Wright.

Researcher Judy S. DeLoache let a group of 18-30 month-old kids play with a kid-sized slide, chair and riding car. When the kids took a break, she replaced the toys with identical miniature versions. Scientifically significant hilarity ensued:

... they attempted with apparent seriousness to perform the same actions with the miniature items that they had with the large ones. Some sat down on the little chair: they walked up to it, turned around, bent their knees and lowered themselves onto it. Some simply perched on top, others sat down so hard that the chair skittered out from under them ... A few kids tried to get into the tiny car. Just as they had done with the large version, they opened the door and attempted -- often with remarkable persistence -- to force a foot inside. One little girl went so far as to take off her shoe in the apparent hope that her foot would then fit!
Clive has an excellent discussion of the study and its implications at Collision Detection.

How do you teach a kid about "four"?
[collisiondetection.net, via startup dad]
Mindful of Symbols, Judy S. DeLoache [scientific american]
Related? "Study Reveals: Babies Are Stupid" [theonion, c.1997]

1 Comment

Yes, I'm happy the Onion's archives are available too. I had a friend who sent so many Onion links via e-mail that finally someone made a mock-up saying something like "Seattle-area Man Can't Stop Sending Onion Articles to Friends Who Read The Onion Already" (I unfortunately don't have the e-mail anymore) and sent it to the same list of people. That was circa 1999.

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