Learning by Watching, Toddlers Show Intuitive Understanding of Probability

I-LABSMedia Coverage, Publication, Research

I-LABS’ Anna Waismeyer and Andrew Meltzoff report that 24-month-olds can make sense of imperfect cause-and-effect relationships.

The latest research from I-LABS shows that toddlers as young as 24-months-old intuitively understand probability in a cause-and-effect game in which the children had to choose which strategy was more likely to work.

I-LABS’ Waismeyer and Andrew Meltzoff and co-author Alison Gopnik at the University of California Berkeley published the research in Developmental Science.

Learn more about the experiment in a news release, and watch the video below.

These results are exciting because they show for the first time that 24-month-olds are able to make sense of imperfect cause-and-effect relationships. In the experiment, neither of the two strategies to win the game worked 100 percent of the time – but one did work better than the other. Simply watching someone else play and make mistakes, the children learned how to up their own chances of winning the game.

Infants and young children have surprisingly complex knowledge of the world. It takes clever techniques to uncover this ‘implicit knowledge,’ before it can be expressed through words. This belief guides I-LABS’ Ready Mind Project, which aims to discover how to maximize children’s natural abilities in hopes of setting them up for a lifetime of learning success.

This new research paper is a step toward that goal, because it reveals that 24-month-olds can intuitively grasp basic principles underlying probability long before these concepts are introduced in grade school through fractions, and decimals. Educators could use this work toward designing mathematics curriculum that promote and support children’s mathematical thinking earlier in life.

Watch Waismeyer demonstrate the game she used in the experiment:

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