Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Learning to Play By Different Rules - Kids are Less Flexible

It's a common notion to think of children as being more "creative" than adults but this latest developmental study puts a different spin on our understanding of kids' thinking. Flexibility is a developmental skill - at least flexible rule use is better in teens than tweens, and better in young adults than either of the younger groups.

It may be that children have fewer rules to begin with, or more inconsistent application or understandings of their rule library. Nevertheless, once learned, a child's rule is likely harder to break. Inflexibility not only impairs learning, it also causes social-emotional havoc.

If we think about the implications of this relative inflexibility about rules, it means we should be careful about the rules we pass down to children. Though rules for children are often different for them than adults, it would be wise to minimize rules that will have to unlearned later.

When children have mismatches disappointments at school, they often make up rules for themselves that may or may not share with adults. Private rules based on distorted assessments or self-conceptions ("I'm bad at this, so I must be dumb at everything") may trap them in a self-destructive cycle.

The bottom link below is to an interesting study (abstract only) that found that children were "perseverative" in their use of rules in a card sorting task. Greater flexibility could be induced by the addition of novel (but unrelated) stimuli, whereas poor flexibility resulted when labels were given to rules.

Do you know of an inflexible child? Are his or her labels getting in the way flexibility?

Children Poorer at Rule Switching fMRI pdf
When Labels Hurt but Novelty Helps: Children's Perseveration and Flexibility in a Card-Sorting Task (Abstract)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder --

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