What is it about?

It is well known that children love to play with whatever physical objects they can get their hands on: picking them up, chewing them, bashing them together and so forth. What is not so clear is why they do this and what role it plays in how they develop into adults. In this paper, we show that, by the age of 4, the ways in which children interact with physical objects when asked questions about them are as sophisticated as adults'. Their actions reliably generate evidence about aspects of the objects that are hard to guess just by looking at them.

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Why is it important?

This reveals that children's play is more learning-directed and more sophisticated than had been previously thought, and suggests that formal learning skills previously taken to emerge later in childhood, such as hypothesis testing, may have their origins in physical play.


Most research into how children and adults gather evidence has used 'science experiment' type scenarios that are intelligible to adults but far from the everyday situations in which we have to gather evidence. It is unclear whether children's failures to do informative things in these settings comes from their ability to understand the task or from a more fundamental failure to gather evidence. This research used a touchscreen and a simulated physical environment to explore more naturalistic active learning and revealed that even quite young children are effective intuitive information foragers.

Neil Bramley
University of Edinburgh

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Children’s active physical learning is as effective and goal-targeted as adults’., Developmental Psychology, September 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/dev0001435.
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