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The scientist in us

To say that children are curious by nature is a topic that is: through play, children interact with other people and with the world, and gain information and knowledge. This is why it is so important to determine what conditions favour the deployment of our natural curiosity. A social psychology experiment published in the journal Cognition can contribute to answering this question.

In the experiment, led by Claire Cook at MIT, was used to 60 children in preschool age. Half of the subjects, they were presented with a box that emitted music when four pieces of the Lego-type were connected to it: the researchers called this situation “All beads ” condition”, since all of the pieces (“beds”) activated the box. The other half of the preschoolers also were presented with another box that was only activated two of the pieces: it is for this reason that this situation was called the “Some beads ” condition”, since only two of the four pieces found the box. The researchers asked at the end, each situation is: “Wow, look at this. I wonder what it is that makes it work the box…” (“‘Wow, look at that. I wonder what makes the machine go?’).

Presented the two conditions, the experiment has entered a third phase: the two groups of preschoolers were provided with two pairs of new pieces: in one of those two pairs, the parts were united in a permanent manner, while the other could separate. Then, the two groups were left a free minute to play.

The research team found that lI children the condition is not ambiguous, those who had seen how all of the pieces sounded the box, is less interested by separating the pair of pieces together that they had been supplied. In this way, the children are not checked if the four pieces provided could be re-sounding of the box. By contrast, 50% of those children who had been offered the “Some beads ” condition”, they tried to separate the two parts united, to check which combination of parts could make it sound the box. In the words of the authors:

when All Beads are presumed to be effective, there is relatively little information to be gained about the new beads; when only Some Beads are effective (but you do not know which ones are), there is the potential for information gain.

Thus, it could be a balanced combination between knowledge acquired and uncertainty that could keep alive the curiosity and the scientific spirit of the younger. And this is an important issue in our current societies, in which the educational model is looking for its site in a complex world, where the intellectual curiosity and continuous learning can make the future of the individuals.