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Flexibility And Learning: Children Learn Best With Picking And Chosing

First Posted: Jul 27, 2015 08:53 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal Cognition show that children can actually do a bit of picking and choosing when it comes to deciding what they want to learn.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that children chose when to flexibly imitate and when to innovate the behavior of others, with findings revealing that children flexibly adapt their behavior based on instrumental and conventional goals in which they can easily differentiate.

"There's nothing children are more interested in than other people," UT Austin psychologist Cristine Legare said in a news release. "Acquiring the skills and practices of their social groups is the fundamental task of childhood."

Certain instrumental goals might including using knives and/or forks to cut food, as well as conventional goals such as handshakes, kisses and bowing.

"We are socially oriented in ways that other species are not, and we are very well equipped to acquire and adapt to the culture and skills of previous generations," Legare concluded. "The core insight here is that children adapt their imitative and innovative behavior to different goals, even at very young ages, demonstrating that humans as a species are flexible, social learners. Our research demonstrates that the early-developing distinction between instrumental and conventional behavior is fundamental to cultural learning in our species."

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