Preschoolers adapt their exploratory strategies to the information structure of the task

AbstractPrevious research has shown that active engagement drives children’s remarkable learning capabilities. We investigated whether preschoolers are ecological learners, able to select those active learning strategies that are most informative in a given task. Children (n = 114; 3 to 5 years old) chose between two exploratory actions (opening vs. shaking) to find an egg shaker hidden in one of four small boxes, contained in two larger boxes. Prior to this game, children learnt that the egg was equally likely to be in any of the four small boxes (Uniform condition), or that it was most likely to be in one particular small box (Skewed condition). Results show that 3- and 4-year-olds, but not 5-year-olds, successfully tailored their exploratory actions to these different likelihood distributions. We suggest that ecological learning may be a key mechanism explaining how children can efficiently learn about the world around them.

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