Your preschooler thinks like a scientist
September 27th, 2012
06:28 PM ET

Your preschooler thinks like a scientist

Young children have more sophisticated thought processes than you might imagine.

A review article in the journal Science by Alison Gopnik of the University of California, Berkeley, sums up a swath of research suggesting that preschoolers can make deductions about cause and effect, infer preferences and test hypotheses.

"New empirical work shows that young children learn from statistics, experiments (i.e., play) and from the actions of others in much the same way that scientists do," Gopnik writes.

Here's an experiment to demonstrate: Gopnik and colleagues showed children a device called a "blicket detector," which is a box that plays music in response to certain blocks being placed on it.  Block A activated music by itself, block B did not, but both A and B together would activate music.  The researchers found that the 2, 3 and 4 years old children were able to figure this out and make the music play.

A 2011 study in the journal Cognition showed a similar effect.  That experiment involved plastic beads that can attach to each other to make a larger structure.  Individual beads were placed on a machine and one group saw that only some beads made the machine work, whereas the second group saw that all beads did.  Then, the kids got two new beads hooked together to play with.  In the group where only some beads led to the machine going, kids pulled the beads apart and tested them separately.  In the other group, they did not.

The beliefs of young children are also influenced by statistical evidence.   A 2007 study in Developmental Psychology found that preschoolers could more easily point to something as a "cause" when it went along with their theories, than when it went against their theories.

Such studies drive home the point that children's play isn't frivolous; it's actually utilizing a degree of scientific thinking, she writes.  It may even suggest that older students and adults could benefit from learning scientific concepts in a more observational "play"-oriented way, rather than just being talked at.

Gopnik argues that this research has profound implications for policy.  She says that policy-makers "systematically underestimate the intellectual capabilities of preschoolers," and that the scientific work that children demonstrate in experiments like these is "more cognitively challenging, in fact, than most school work."

Tell us what you think: Could education benefit from these insights? Share your thoughts in the comments.

soundoff (615 Responses)
  1. Luxury Van


    June 29, 2021 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Camper Repair Shop Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sprinter Repair Costs


    June 29, 2021 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mercedes Benz Sprinter Chassis Repair


    June 29, 2021 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Repair Cost On Mercedes Sprinter Van


    June 29, 2021 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Windshield Replacement Shop Near Me

    Everything is very open with a really clear description of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing!


    June 29, 2021 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dodge Sprinter Mechanic

    Very nice blog post. I certainly appreciate this site. Continue the good work!


    June 29, 2021 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sprinter Repair Orange County

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I am hoping to check out the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my very own website now 😉


    June 30, 2021 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Camper Repair Shop Near Me


    June 30, 2021 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Camper Repairs Near Me

    I enjoy looking through an article that can make men and women think. Also, thanks for permitting me to comment!


    June 30, 2021 at 04:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. RV Repair Near My Location

    I was very happy to discover this web site. I want to to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every part of it and i also have you bookmarked to check out new information on your web site.


    June 30, 2021 at 04:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Repairs Near Me

    This blog was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Many thanks!


    June 30, 2021 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Leisure Travel Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 30, 2021 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Digital Media Companies

    Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful article. Many thanks for providing this information.


    June 30, 2021 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Noelia Lindsay

    I want to show my thanks to the writer just for bailing me out of this type of incident. Because of scouting throughout the online world and seeing suggestions which are not beneficial, I believed my entire life was done. Existing minus the solutions to the issues you've sorted out through your entire article content is a serious case, and those which could have badly affected my entire career if I had not noticed your blog post. Your primary capability and kindness in dealing with almost everything was invaluable. I don't know what I would've done if I had not encountered such a subject like this. I can at this time look ahead to my future. Thanks very much for your professional and result oriented guide. I will not think twice to endorse your site to any person who should have direction about this topic.

    May 13, 2022 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.