Every Child Is A Scientist

Jonah Lehrer

Pablo Picasso once declared: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Well, something similar can be said about scientists. According to a new study in Cognition led by Claire Cook at MIT, every child is a natural scientist. The problem is how to remain a scientist once we grow up.

The psychologists conducted their experiments on four and five-year-olds, so they had to be pretty simple. Sixty kids were shown a boxy toy that played music when beads were placed on it. Half of the children saw a version of the toy in which the toy was only activated after four beads were exactingly placed, one at a time, on the top of the toy. This was the “unambiguous condition,” since it implied every bead is equally capable of activating the device. However, other children were randomly assigned to an “ambiguous condition,” in which only two of the four beads activated the toy. (The other two beads did nothing.) In both conditions, the researchers ended their demo with a question: “Wow, look at that. I wonder what makes the machine go?”

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