Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He is a past president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and a co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field. Dr. Bloom has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science as well as for popular outlets such as The New York Times, the Guardian, and the Atlantic. He is the author or editor of four books, including "Descartes' Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human." His newest book, "How Pleasure Works," will be published by Norton in June 2010.
Professor Bloom is a Big Think Delphi Fellow.
Question: What learning capacities do we lose after childhood?
Paul Bloom: So one interesting question is, in what ways are children superior to adults? What gifts and capacities do children have that adults lack? And I think that there's two ways of answering that question that give intersecting answers. One is evolutionary, which is what would you expect a child to be good at, given that what childhood is, is a period before maturity where you get everything up to speed. The second one is, developmental psychology and observation. What do we see that children do that's really good and that's better than adults? And I think one answer, for instance, is language. So children are better at learning language than adults, because that's the main task of childhood. By the time you're an adult, you had better know a language and there's not much evolutionary pressure to wire up your brain to learn more, you're done, you should be knowing it by then.
Children are, I think, better learners regarding motor skills, possibly regarding certain aspects of social interaction. We'd be really screwed if we had to start our life over again as children with our brains right now, because I think we lose the plasticity and flexibility.
One claim, which I'm not sure about, is whether children are better pretenders and better players than adults. And that I'm not sure, but there's a romantic notion that children know how to play and they know how to pretend and we lose this as adults. But I look around at my own life and the life of my friends and life of other people, and all I see is play and pretend. I see people, you know, playing video games, going to movies, reading books, doing all sorts of things. So I'm not sure that the play part ever goes away, I think that might be just as strong in adults as it is with kids.