How Not Being Too Rational Helps Children Learn

In animals of reasonable intelligence, a cause-and-effect logic is naturally present. Children, however, lack a concrete understanding of the world which encourages them to persist and learn. 

What's the Latest Development?


Just as in Aesop's fable about the crow and pitcher, where a thirsty crow drops pebbles into a pitcher so the water will rise to the top, birds are able to understand cause and effect to surprisingly high degree. But when the relationship between cause and effect is hidden from the birds' view in laboratory conditions, they are quickly confused and give up. Recently, psychologists decided to test how ingrained this cause-and-effect logic was in children, who were presumed to be smarter than birds but, given their young age, the degree of their development was an open question. 

What's the Big Idea?

In an experiment involving a clever arrangement of tubes, in which two wide ones were positioned on either side of a narrow tube, children succeeded where birds failed. "The bottoms of the tubes were hidden, concealing the fact that one of the wide tubes was in fact connected at the bottom to the narrow center tube, whereas the other wide tube stood alone." Because the cause and effect mechanism was hidden out of view, the operation of the tubes were mysterious to children. "Children start off with no idea of what is possible and what is not possible," said one of the lead researchers. "If they did, they would never be able to learn. This is why children like magic..."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less

Believe in soulmates? You're more likely to 'ghost' romantic partners.

Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?

Thought Catalog via Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
  • Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
  • Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.
Keep reading Show less

Mini-brains attach to spinal cord and twitch muscles

A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.

(Lancaster, et al)
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
  • Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
  • The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
Keep reading Show less