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Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science Presents

When children are better learners than adults are

9/22/17, 3:35 PM

About this event

“When children are better learners than adults are: Theory formation, causal models, and the evolution of learning.”

Alison Gopnik, Department of Psychology, University of California at Berkeley


In the past 15 years, we have discovered that even young children are adept at inferring causal relationships and that they do so in much the same way as scientists, using causal models and inductive inference to construct intuitive theories of the world. But are there differences in the ways that younger children, older children and adults learn? And do socioeconomic status and culture make a difference? I will present several studies showing a surprising pattern. Not only can preschoolers learn abstract higher-order principles from data, but younger learners are actually better at inferring unusual or unlikely principles than older learners and adults. This pattern also holds for children in Peru and in Headstart programs in Oakland, California. I relate this pattern to computational ideas about search and sampling, to evolutionary ideas about human life history, and to neuroscience findings about the negative effects of frontal control on wide exploration. My hypothesis is that our distinctively long, protected human childhood allows an early period of broad hypothesis search, exploration and creativity, before the demands of goal-directed action set in.

For more information contact Janet McKernan mcps@umn.edu 612-625-6635
This event is free and open to the public.
Event Location
  • 275 Nicholson Hall
  • 216 Pillsbury Drive SE
  • Minneapolis MN
  • USA