Pre-schoolers better with tech than college students: study

Children can outperform college students when it comes to hi-tech problem solving. (Samuel Borges...

Children can outperform college students when it comes to hi-tech problem solving. (Samuel Borges Photography/shutterstock.com)

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, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Pre-school kids are better than university students when it comes to figuring out how gadgets, gizmos and unusual toys work.

Or so say the results of research undertaken by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers tested how 106 four-to-five-year-olds and 107 college undergraduates faired in getting to grips with something they called "Blickets," a game with both physical and electrical elements that functioned in an unusual way.

The object of the game is to place clay geometric shapes (Brickets) on a box in certain numbers or combinations in order to activate a light and play music.

The researchers found that because children are more flexible and less biased than adults when it comes to concepts such as cause and effect, they were quicker in solving the problem at the heart of the game.

For example, following game demonstrations, the preschoolers quickly figured out that combinations of shapes placed on the box would trigger the music, while the students persisted in trying to figure out which individual geometric shapes made the music play. They stuck to a common and obvious rule even though through demonstrations, the researchers had indicated that said rules didn't necessarily apply.

"As far as we know, this is the first study examining whether children can learn abstract cause and effect relationships, and comparing them to adults," said UC Berkeley developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, senior author of the paper published online in the journal Cognition.

The paper highlights that on the whole, children are more likely to follow Bayesain logic, or in layman's terms, to entertain unlikely possibilities in order to understand how something functions.

Therefore it's little wonder that the average five-year-old can crack a smartphone's passcode and run up a huge bill thanks to in-app purchases in a matter of minutes.

"One big question, looking forward, is what makes children more flexible learners -- are they just free from the preconceptions that adults have, or are they fundamentally more flexible or exploratory in how they see the world?" said Christopher Lucas, lead author of the paper and a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. "Regardless, children have a lot to teach us about learning."


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