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Study Explains Why Your Preschooler May Be Better With An iPad Than You Are

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So you think you're more tech-savvy than a preschooler? Think again.

When it comes to figuring out how new gadgets operate, kids may have adults beat. That's because kids may think about problems more creatively than grown-ups do.

"[M]aybe children are better at solving problems when the solution is an unexpected one," Alison Gopnik, the lead author of a study on the topic, said Monday during an interview with NPR.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkley and University of Edinburgh launched their study to examine how children learn about cause and effect, compared to grown-ups. The team tested the problem-solving skills of 106 preschoolers, ages 4 and 5, using a game in which the children figure out how to turn on a music box by placing different shaped objects on top of the box. Sometimes certain individual shapes turned on the device; other times combinations of shapes turned it on.

When researchers compared the children's results to 170 Berkley undergraduate students, they found the pre-schoolers were far better at figuring out which shapes turned on the box. This result, the team said, is likely a reflection of kids' more flexible and fluid approach to thinking.

The study noted that adults' preconceptions and prior experiences tended to shape their approach to problem solving, while the kids were naturally more open to trying unusual solutions and experimentation. Researchers also said their results suggest that children "are less biased by prior assumptions and pay more attention to current evidence."

"If the child sees that a square block and a round block independently turn the music on, then they'll take a square and take a circle and put them both on the machine together to make it go, even though they never actually saw the experimenters do that," Gopnik told NPR.

In a column for The Wall Street Journal, Gopnik says there's a variance between kids' and adults' approaches to learning because "[g]rown-ups stick with the tried and true; 4-year-olds have the luxury of looking for the weird and wonderful."

The results of this study were published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Cognition.