Inventions such as the 9-year-old Stephen Wamucotas pedal-operated hand-washing device in Austin, Texas and the convenient SafeTouch Pro from the 12-year-old Mizan Rupan-Tompkins are creative enough for young people to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. It shows that. However, new research suggests that these young inventors are ahead of their time when it comes to the cognitive skills and social learning experiences needed for innovation.
In a treatise published in the Trends of Cognitive Sciences, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin address questions that have puzzled scientists for over a decade. Why do we learn most of our childhood when humans have such advanced skills? How to solve the challenges of simple tool innovation? This study provides a cognitive explanation for the development of tool innovation. This is a skill made possible by the unique ability of human beings to incorporate the innovations of others and modify or combine them in creative ways to develop new technologies.
Bruce Rawlings, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author, says that humans are independent in the complexity of technology. It is the product of the ability to learn, modify and improve from other innovations. Our unique ability to innovate tools is why we have technologies such as spacecraft, biomedicine, and the internet. This allowed us to develop an online platform for homeschooling and develop vaccines at an unprecedented rate. Still, we still don’t understand why this is such an effortful and latecomer skill.
In their dissertation, UT Austin’s professors of psychology, Rawlings and Cristine Legare, wrote that tool innovation executive function (working memory, attention control, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility), planning, creativity, causal reasoning, and problem-solving. Discusses the cognitive basis of. Social learning develops gradually from childhood to early adolescence and works in concert during tool innovation. These break down the tool innovation process into three steps.
The three steps of tool innovation and their associated cognitive mechanisms. Published in Rawlings and Legare, Toddlers, Tools, and Tech: The Cognitive Otogenesis of Innovation, Trends of Cognitive Science.
First, children need to understand that they have problems to solve and can be solved using the tools available. The authors explained that these cognitive abilities develop at a fairly early stage. Even preschoolers can make predictions and explanations based on causal reasoning, so they can understand that tools can be used to solve problems.
The second and most energetic cognitive step is to turn existing material into tools to present potential solutions to the problem. This requires much more advanced cognitive skills such as planning, creativity, and executive functioning. Many of these skills do not mature until late childhood or early adolescence and require additional experience gained by observing and interacting with others.
Our interest in others and what they know can explain the tremendous desire for human discovery, Legale said. Innovations need to be built on the insights of previous generations and modified to meet current demands and solve critical problems.
The third and final step to successful tool innovation is the incorporation of innovation by others. This demonstrates its true value and allows innovation to spread throughout the population, the authors say. In this way, tool innovation has allowed humans to develop advanced technologies and effectively respond to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers said that current measures against social isolation can have complex consequences for the development of innovation.
On the other hand, we know how important social connectivity is to innovation, and that school education has a positive effect on the many cognitive processes that support innovation. Therefore, school turmoil and social isolation can be detrimental, Legale said. On the other hand, we now need to come up with all sorts of innovative and creative ways of learning and action, and in that sense, innovating and creativity by being forced to come up with different ideas and experiences. There is a possibility to utilize it.
These are the latest findings from ongoing research projects funded by the National Science Foundation and the Templeton World Charity Foundation, unleashing the cognitive infrastructure underlying cultural learning, cultural complexity and innovation. Identify what makes humans cognitively, culturally and socially unique. Watch this video for more information.
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