Why do children lack the flexibility to innovate tools?

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Despite being proficient tool users, young children have surprising difficulty in innovating tools (making novel tools to solve problems). Two experiments found that 4- to 7-year-olds had difficulty on two tool innovation problems and explored reasons for this inflexibility. Experiment 1 (N=51) showed that children's performance was unaffected by the need to switch away from previously correct strategies. Experiment 2 (N=92) suggested that children's difficulty could not easily be explained by task pragmatics or permission issues. Both experiments found evidence that some children perseverated on a single incorrect strategy, but such perseveration was insufficient to explain children's tendency not to innovate tools. We suggest that children's difficulty lies not with switching, task pragmatics, or behavioral perseveration but rather with solving the fundamentally "ill-structured" nature of tool innovation problems.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2011