Flexible problem solving and mnemonic conflicts in children between 12 months and 7 years of age

Projekt: Forskning




The overarching aim of this project is to investigate how young children use episodic memory to solve analogical yet physically dissimilar problems that require tool use. This ability, termed flexible tool-dependent problem solving, is crucial in everyday adult life as it allows adults to solve both familiar and unfamiliar problems in a fast and efficient way. However, little is known about developmental trajectory of this ability. Whereas components of flexible tool-dependent problem solving – analogical problem solving, tool use and episodic memory - have been previously studied separately, they have only once been studied jointly, in a non-verbal setup that required coordination of these components. The setup allowed for testing whether children could transfer tool use across analogical yet physically dissimilar problems, using long-term memory. In this setup, a child was presented in two separate situations with two analogical but perceptually dissimilar problems that required tool use. In the first situation, the child learnt how to solve a given physical problem with
a functionally relevant tool. The second situation followed either immediately afterwards or 24 hours later; now the child was supposed to transfer this solution to the other problem. Further, functional and perceptual features of tools used in the study were manipulated to set up a cognitive conflict between the two situations.

Three objectives will be realized in the proposed project. (1) Testing the previous setup with children between 4 and 7 years of age. (2) Adapting the setup to 12-30-month-old children in a preferential looking test. (3) Modifying the setup to arrange a more profound cognitive conflict than in the original study and testing it with children between 2.5 and 7 years of age.

As flexible problem solving across superficially dissimilar situations is a critical ability in adult life (Keen, 2011), investigating its developmental trajectory is important for (1) identifying children at risk to design age-appropriate interventions; (2) understanding cognitive development of atypically developing children who cannot be reliably tested with language-dependent methods; (3) developing non-verbal methods that can be used for cognitive testing in neuropsychological assessment; (4) identifying mechanisms which may persist in adulthood and prevent adults from taking a global rather than local perspective on complex problems, (5) identifying mechanisms which may persist in adulthood and affect efficient problem solving in the face of conflicting information, (6) a better understanding of the evolutionary function of episodic memory. Therefore, the outcomes of the proposed project will allow for sharpening clinical tools (1-3), recognizing and discarding superficially accurate yet false analogies, e.g., in public debates (4-5), and sketching out the ontogenetic and the evolutionary trajectory of episodic memory (6).


Are you enrolled in a relevant Master's programme and would like to get involved in the project? You are most welcome to contact me, even if only to check whether this might be something for you!

Populärvetenskaplig beskrivning

As adults, we rapidly resolve complex situations that we have never experienced before. This is possible because we have access to memories of numerous past experiences that, to some extent, overlap with the present situation. To apply these experiences in the present, we need not only to retrieve their pieces, scattered across our minds, but also decide which are relevant and which are not. Should we choose a situation that looked similar to the current one? Or perhaps look for another situation that looked different, but may have involved similar relations between objects?

Selecting and acting upon the most relevant experience is so deeply embedded in our way of thinking that we do not even notice it as adults. In fact, however, retrieving, choosing and prioritising some experiences over other ones is a complex process. While we are learning more and more about this process in adults, we still know very little about its development.

In our previous project, carried out in collaboration with researchers and students at the department, I learned that children as young as 2.5 can use previous experiences to solve novel situations, even on the next day. Now, I would like to find out at which age children can prioritise some previous experiences over others. To this end, on the one hand, I will work with children between 2.5 and 7 in simple game-like settings, in which children will use their hands to release a bee trapped in various puzzle boxes. On the other hand, I will also work with children younger than 2.5 to learn how they understand analogical situations, presented in short movies.

This project touches upon skills that go far beyond our childhood and are critical to more than resolving everyday situations. For instance, as adults, we have an important task of participating in political life. We vote for politicians, support some societal changes, participate in unions and so on. During such activities, at the very least, we need to assess lines of reasoning presented by others and take a certain stance toward these lines. Analysing whether someone’s reasoning is based on relevant facts and observations, or rather irrelevant and misleading ones, is a critical skill that makes us a well-informed, critically thinking member of society.
Kort titelFlexible problem solving in young children
Gällande start-/slutdatum2020/06/012022/05/31


Relaterad forskningsoutput

Katarzyna Bobrowicz, Felicia Lindström, Marcus Lindblom Lovén & Elia Psouni, 2020 okt 6, I : Frontiers in Psychology. 2706.

Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

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