How Are Kids Smarter Than Adults?

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.

What abilities do our brains lose after childhood? Developmental psychologist Paul Bloom explains.

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less

A historian identifies the worst year in human history

A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.

Credit: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (Museo del Prado).
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
  • The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
  • 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
Keep reading Show less

How to fool a shark using magnets

A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.

Credit: D Ross Robertson/Wikimedia/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • It's long been suspected that sharks navigate the oceans using Earth's magnetic field.
  • Sharks are, however, difficult to experiment with.
  • Using magnetism, marine biologists figured out a clever way to fool sharks into thinking they're somewhere that they're not.
Keep reading Show less