“In the real world, there is an infinite amount of information,” lead author Jenny Wang, an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Rutgers, explained. “Despite the fact that young children must learn so much in such a short period of time, they appear to do so happily and effectively. We wanted to know what piqued their interest.”
According to a study conducted by Rutgers University-New Brunswick, preschool children are acutely aware of the gap between what they know and what they still need to learn.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, discovered that preschool children are more likely to choose to learn more about something if they already know enough about it to find it interesting, but not so much that it becomes boring.
According to researchers, this “optimal” level of existing knowledge instils in children the ideal balance of uncertainty and curiosity, motivating them to learn more.
The study examined how children’s level of knowledge affects the type of information they find interesting. The findings imply that children are not simply drawn to novel information.
According to Wang, children are naturally curious, but the challenge is harnessing this curiosity.
“Ultimately, these findings will assist parents and educators in providing children with better support as they actively explore and learn about the world,” Wang said.
Wang and her coauthors conducted a series of experiments in which they created in-person and online storybooks to assess what 3- to 5-year-old preschool children know about various “knowledge domains.” Additionally, the experiment assessed their ability to comprehend and understand a specific topic, such as contagion, and examined how children’s current level of knowledge predicts their interest in learning more about it, including whether someone will get sick after playing with a sneezing friend.
“Curiosity appears to be associated with those who have the most knowledge, such as scientists, and those who have the least knowledge, such as infants,” said Wang, who directs the Rutgers Cognition and Learning Center (CALC).
“However, what we discovered here is quite surprising: children in the middle expressed the greatest interest in learning more about contagion, as opposed to children who knew too little or too much,” Wang concluded.
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