Children compensate for lack of concentration with creativity

Summary: Creativity and spontaneous strategies help children facilitate tasks that require concentration.

Source: Max Planck Institute

Children have difficulty with concentration tasks, but are often good at discovering hidden “tricks” to make the task easier. Spontaneous strategy changes help them achieve this, according to a study of learning behavior in children by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Compared to adults, children are not yet able to concentrate as well, have less memory, and their attention span is relatively short. This is due to the stage of cognitive development. As a result, so far assumed, they have a disadvantage when solving tasks.

However, a study by the Max Planck Research Group “NeuroCode—Neural and Computational Basis of Learning, Memory, and Decision-Making” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development now shows that increased attentional focus wide can also be an advantage: children are good at processing less relevant information and using it to spontaneously come up with new and creative strategies when solving tasks.

Adults, too, show spontaneous strategy shifts when solving tasks, similar to so-called “aha moments” that make task solving easier.

The journal article, published in the journal PLOS ONEshows that although children do significantly less well when solving tasks using traditional strategies, such as focused attention, they are just as likely as adults to master tasks using spontaneous strategy changes.

“Our results show that while children are often less focused and more easily distracted than adults, they are surprisingly flexible in discovering entirely new solutions,” says psychologist and neuroscientist Nicolas Schuck, group leader of the Max Planck Research Group. NeuroCode” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

“Especially given their not fully developed ability to concentrate, these are important findings for research on learning behavior in children,” Schuck added.

The study, which has been ongoing since 2013, used the following method to conduct research: 47 children between the ages of 8 and 10 and 39 young adults between the ages of 20 and 35 were asked to complete the same decision-making task. decision.

In this task, they were asked to determine the position of a pattern using two possible answers. Pattern color was not initially relevant to the correct answer, but began to be associated with the correct answer as the task progressed.

When participants noticed this, they were able to solve the task much more efficiently and easily. Participants were not informed that there would be other factors influencing possible solution strategies and could only identify them independently.

The MPIB NeuroCode team, in collaboration with researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, FernUniversität Hagen, Humbold University Berlin, UNSW Sydney and PFH Göttingen, was able to obtain the following results: Compared to young adults, children generally perform significantly worse in solving the task. They had more incorrect and premature answers. However, the proportion of children (27.5%) who discovered and used the useful color strategy was very similar to that of young adults (28.2%).

As long as the children only used the initial strategies and rules available, which required concentration and persistence, their performance was worse. However, as many children as young adults have discovered and used the color rule.

The new knowledge about the “aha moment” is an important finding of the study. Image is in public domain

Thus, although children performed worse in all domains of cognitive control, an almost equal proportion of them compared to young adults were able to improve thanks to an “aha moment”, and thus obtained a performance advantage similar to that of the adult group.

The new knowledge about the “aha moment” is an important finding of the study.

“Our results prove that educators, parents, and teachers should stress less about rigid rules and teach only one concrete way to solve problems, but also value and encourage broader attentional focus in children.

“Our results show that we can have more confidence in children’s creative problem-solving strategies,” says Anika Löwe of the NeuroCode team and co-author of the study. In the future, she says, in the area of ​​cognitive developmental psychology, there should be more research on creative processes rather than lack of concentration in children.

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About this creativity and neurodevelopment research news

Author: Press office
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Press Office – Max Planck Institute
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
Spontaneous discovery of new task solutions in children” by Nicolas W. Schuck et al. PLOS ONE


Spontaneous discovery of new task solutions in children

Children often do less well than adults in tasks that require special attention. Although generally considered a sign of incomplete cognitive development, broader attentional focus could also endow children with the ability to come up with new solutions to a given task.

To test this idea, we studied children’s ability to discover and use new aspects of the environment that allowed them to improve their decision-making strategy. Participants were given a single-choice task in which the possibility of strategy improvement was neither mentioned by instructions nor encouraged by explicit error feedback.

Among 47 children (8–10 years old) who were instructed to perform the choice task in two experiments, 27.5% showed a complete change in strategy. This closely matched the proportion of adults who had the same idea (28.2% of n=39).

The amount of wrong choices, working memory capacity, and inhibitory control, on the other hand, indicated substantial disadvantages in children in task performance and cognitive control. A task difficulty manipulation did not affect the results.

The stark contrast between age differences in different aspects of cognitive performance could provide a unique opportunity for educators to foster learning in children.

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