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Children Devise and Selectively Use Tools to Offload Cognition

Bulley, A; McCarthy, T; Gilbert, SJ; Suddendorf, T; Redshaw, J; (2020) Children Devise and Selectively Use Tools to Offload Cognition. Current Biology 10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.035. (In press).

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Abstract

From maps sketched in sand to supercomputing software, humans ubiquitously enhance cognitive performance by creating and using artifacts that bear mental load. This extension of information processing into the environment has taken center stage in debates about the nature of cognition in humans and other animals. How does the human mind acquire such strategies? In two experiments, we investigated the developmental origins of cognitive offloading in 150 children aged between 4 and 11 years. We created a memory task in which children were required to recall the location of hidden targets. In one experiment, participants were provided with a pre-specified cognitive offloading opportunity: an option to mark the target locations with tokens during the hiding period. Even 4-year-old children quickly adopted this external strategy and, in line with a metacognitive account, children across ages offloaded more often when the task was more difficult. In a second experiment, we provided children with the means to devise their own cognitive offloading strategy. Very few younger children spontaneously devised a solution, but by ages 10 and 11, nearly all did so. In a follow-up test phase, a simple prompt greatly increased the rate at which the younger children devised an offloading strategy. These findings suggest that sensitivity to the difficulties of thinking arises early in development and improves throughout the early school years, with children learning to modify the world around them to compensate for their cognitive limits.

Type: Article
Title: Children Devise and Selectively Use Tools to Offload Cognition
Location: England
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.035
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.06.035
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: cognitive artifacts, cognitive development, cognitive offloading, extended mind, metacognition
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10106246
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