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Not getting symbolism
August 18, 2005 9:23 AM   Subscribe

"Almost half the children committed one or more of these mistakes. They attempted with apparent seriousness to perform the same actions with the miniature items that they had with the large ones. Some sat down on the little chair: they walked up to it, turned around, bent their knees and lowered themselves onto it. Some simply perched on top, others sat down so hard that the chair skittered out from under them. Some children sat on the miniature slide and tried to ride down it, usually falling off in the process; others attempted to climb the steps, causing the slide to tip over. (With the chair and slide made of sturdy plastic and only about five inches tall, the toddlers faced no danger of hurting themselves.)"
posted by Tlogmer (34 comments total)

 
Even some older kids still miss the point.
posted by PlusDistance at 9:33 AM on August 18, 2005


Is our children learning?
posted by mullingitover at 9:37 AM on August 18, 2005


Fascinating--thanks, Tlogmer!
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2005


Yeah, its funny. If you give my toddler a real bat, he starts swinging it around and smashing stuff. When I give him a souvenir bat (maybe one fifth the size of a real bat), he starts swinging it and smashing stuff with it too.

Now I know why.
posted by fenriq at 9:46 AM on August 18, 2005


mullingitover: now this is something we can blame on George Bush!
posted by Dean Keaton at 9:49 AM on August 18, 2005


It's fascinating. For those of you who have taken formal IQ tests or were part of some genious club (like MENSA) you should know that the questions revolve primarily around symbology. This can be further shown in the weight given to questions involving spatial relation and orientation.
posted by mystyk at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2005


Also, PlusDistance, excellent point.
posted by mystyk at 9:56 AM on August 18, 2005


I would have enjoyed pictures of the children falling over and whatnot
posted by poppo at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2005


I am soooooo messing with my toddler's mind when I get home tonight!!
posted by smcniven at 10:05 AM on August 18, 2005


Two-thirds into the article:
"(One of the remarkable things about this study is the fact that the children did not find it at all surprising that a machine could miniaturize objects. Or that it might need privacy to do so.)"
posted by nobody at 10:11 AM on August 18, 2005


There was some great video of this (especially the trying to get into the tiny car bit) in the fascinating and excellent series "The Baby Human", a six-hour series that runs periodically on the Discovery Channel. (A much shorter version is available via Amazon.)
posted by ewagoner at 10:13 AM on August 18, 2005


Funnily enough, I grew up in a cognitive scientist's house, and the author of the referenced article came over for dinner all the time. I can confirm that having all the adults in your life constantly testing you with crazy scenarios, shrinking machines, and psychological weirdness makes for an amusing set of adult psychoses.
posted by felix at 10:13 AM on August 18, 2005


One of the remarkable things about this study is how surprised the researchers were that a small child might mistake a sufficiently realistic photo with the object it represents, or try to use a miniature object in the same manner as its full sized counterpart. This last point is particularly significant inasmuch as toddlers often have access to things like child sized chairs, spoons, and tables.

It does at least explain why a toddler who has used a scaled down silde will run across the playground and try to climb/use the "big kid" slide if you don't watch him like a hawk.
posted by ilsa at 10:33 AM on August 18, 2005


Interestingly, most of the children showed little or no reaction to their failed attempts with the miniatures. A couple seemed a bit angry, a few looked sheepish, but most simply went on to do something else. We think the lack of reaction probably reflects the fact that toddlers' daily lives are full of unsuccessful attempts to do one thing or another.

Sounds like my day, yet I don't deal with my failures with equal aplomb.

Great post - I love me some cognitive science!
posted by mzurer at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2005


mystyk writes "For those of you who have taken formal IQ tests or were part of some genious club (like MENSA) you should know that the questions revolve primarily around symbology."

That's pretty obvious. The only thing these tests can measure reliably is the ability to recognize abstract patterns.
posted by clevershark at 10:53 AM on August 18, 2005


We then encouraged the child to find "Big Snoopy," a large version of the toy "hiding in the same place in his big room." We wondered whether children could use their memory of the small room to figure out where to find the toy in the large one.

Koko the gorilla can do this. Instead of Snoopy, a can of Coke.
posted by Specklet at 11:02 AM on August 18, 2005


Great article. I wish I had grown up to be a cognitive scientist.

I'd like to see video, too. And I'd love to hear of any memories toddlers might have about the shrinking machine. That'd be fun.
posted by teece at 11:06 AM on August 18, 2005


Thanks for the link, this is neat. I'd love to have heard more about the anthropologist who took their books to the Ivory Coast. Sounds fascinating.
posted by voltairemodern at 11:10 AM on August 18, 2005


Interesting piece. Though not exactly news if you hang out with toddlers or have a few at home.

Kind of reminded me of that old Onion article: "Study Finds Babies Are Stupid."
posted by youarejustalittleant at 11:11 AM on August 18, 2005


LOL! Speaking of adult symbological mistakes, did you see the Adobe advertisment on that page? If not, take a look at:

Adobe: Work Together Better

Look at the gears. Do they work together at all? Try turning the first one and see what happens. The teeth collide with the second one. Fix that problem, and the fifth and sixth one maybe will mesh, but the sixth and seventh certainly will lock up.

Looks like we have a new entry for Don Simanek's blunders page.
posted by billb at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2005


That's pretty obvious. The only thing these tests can measure reliably is the ability to recognize abstract patterns.

Wouldn't that be the definition of intelligence?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:29 AM on August 18, 2005


An episode of "Father Ted" -- goofy British comedy about three loser priests on a grim Irish island -- has Ted trying to explain this concept to his pea-brained colleage.

They're sitting inside a tiny trailer with toy plastic cows on the table between them. "These are small," Ted says again and again, then points out the window and says, "Those are far away."
posted by kenlayne at 11:36 AM on August 18, 2005


mystyk writes "For those of you who have taken formal IQ tests or were part of some genious club (like MENSA) you should know that the questions revolve primarily around symbology. This can be further shown in the weight given to questions involving spatial relation and orientation."

Those tests don't really have anything to do with symbols, though, do they? The spatial reasoning problems are completely abstract, with no (intended) symbolic value.

Unless your referring to a type of test I'm unfamiliar with; this is what I've seen. I don't think you can call that "symbolic".

I would think that any purported IQ test that "revolves primarly around symbology" would be too laden with cultural references to have any real value.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2005


Very cool read. Thanks.

When we asked the children to search for the toy, they immediately looked in the small tent. Believing the miniature to actually be the original tent after shrinking, they successfully retrieved the hidden toy. Unlike in our scale model experiment, they had no dual representation to master: the small tent was the same as the large tent, and thus the toy was where it should be, according to the toddlers' view of the world.

Interesting.

fenriq:Yeah, its funny. If you give my toddler a real bat, he starts swinging it around and smashing stuff. When I give him a souvenir bat (maybe one fifth the size of a real bat), he starts swinging it and smashing stuff with it too.

Now I know why.


Because toddlers like to smash stuff with sticks, is why.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:36 PM on August 18, 2005


kenlayne, fantastic, I now have external validation of an argument I've had before.

billb, yeah, I noticed those gears were wonky too, dumb of them.

eustacescrubb, precisely.

I watch my toddler learn new ways of doing things everyday. It is amazing watching him sponge up everything he sees, hears, tastes, touches and smells and learn from it, absorb it and try it out the next day. He understands much more than I'd have thought he would be able to by now. We've also been using sign language with him to try and give him a non verbal means of letting us know what he needs or wants.
posted by fenriq at 12:52 PM on August 18, 2005


billb: I'm not sure sure, but maybe Adobe was trying to show that with Adobe things would work better? ie. like the gears would work and stuff...?

No you're right... that is a blunder....
posted by zach4000 at 12:56 PM on August 18, 2005


"I thought you were further away." - Gahan Wilson, 1971.
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2005


We've also been using sign language with him to try and give him a non verbal means of letting us know what he needs or wants.

How old is he? My son was Mr. Sign until he started talking -- now he doesn't even remember them. But he talked early - he's saying 6 and 7 word sentences and he's not yet 2. I sometimes wonder if the signs encouraged that.
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:15 PM on August 18, 2005


After they observed the small toy being placed behind the miniature couch, they ran into the room and found the large toy behind the real couch. But the two-and-a-half-year-olds, much to my and their parents' surprise, failed abysmally. They cheerfully ran into the room to retrieve the large toy, but most of them had no idea where to look, even though they remembered where the tiny toy was hidden in the miniature room and could readily find it there.

Interestingly, the great apes are capable of making the connection. One might say that they are more intelligent than 2 1/2 year olds.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2005


"When we asked the children to search for the toy, they immediately looked in the small tent. Believing the miniature to actually be the original tent after shrinking, they successfully retrieved the hidden toy."

Well, that's what I would do too if I was given the same test. It doesn't have much to do with believing the scenario but with consenting to play along with the story which has been given to you. So, it seems like the most logical place where to look first. Where else would you look??
posted by bikerdriver at 1:48 PM on August 18, 2005


mr_roboto writes "I would think that any purported IQ test that 'revolves primarly around symbology' would be too laden with cultural references to have any real value."

Perhaps it revolves not so much around symbology as around semiotics (a sort of meta-symbology, if you like).
posted by clevershark at 2:07 PM on August 18, 2005


I think it revolves around spatial reasoning.... There's really no "meaning" to the forms: they're not signs; they're just shapes.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:54 PM on August 18, 2005


bikerdriver, the point is that the kids were able to find the doll when the symbolism was made more concrete via the shrinking story, but not when they were given the task in a more abstract framework, with the little-Snoopy vs. big-Snoopy experiment.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 5:34 PM on August 18, 2005


I just think it's funny. I want more experiments that screw with the minds of little children! Purely for the entertainment value!
posted by deliquescent at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2005


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