Mostly it is said that young ones, particularly infants and children learn faster than adults. They are much more receptive, creative and imaginative as compared to adults, even if they lack the skills to showcase themselves.
According to Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, “In some circumstances, very young children — 3- and 4-year-olds, even 18-month-olds — seem to be solving some kinds of problems better than adults are…”
On an average, a kid asks a many more questions in a day than an adult does. What is even more interesting is that even if he/she has been given an answer, that kid doesn’t really stop there. He/ She goes on to try and observe himself/herself and attest the given answer so that he/she can personally verify whether the answer is correct or not. After this process, a kid finally accepts the results which may or may not be the same as your answer.
The difference between the approaches lies in the fact that adults base their solutions on certain cause and effect patterns which they have observed over a period of time in their life which almost all the time leads to exclusion of certain “unlikely” solution of the problem which might have worked if employed in one way or the other.
We showed patterns like these to kids ages 4 and 5 as well as to Berkeley undergraduates. First we showed them the triangle/rectangle kind of pattern, which suggested that the machine might use the combination rule. Then we showed them the ambiguous round/square kind of pattern.
The kids got it. They figured out that the machine might work in this unusual way and that you should put both blocks on together. But the Berkeley students acted as if the machine would always follow the more obvious individual block rule, even when we showed them that it might work differently.
You can read the entire study in a blog post by Alison Gopnik in her WSJ article titled Why You’re Not As Clever as a 4-Year-Old
Now let’s see how scientific thinking works. To a scientist if a question/situation arises, he/she goes back to all available sources of knowledge currently present, looks up the subject matter and tries to find the logical connection between the laws/rules given to the condition at the helm. Then they take some particular set of laws or theory available and try to explain the possible outcomes of that situation. This process is basically cross checking or attesting the robustness of the existing theory. If the theory explains all the possible outcomes then it is said to be an acceptable theory and it prevails. However if a fallacy is observed then it is the job of the entire scientific community to make or suggest improvements in the present one or to introduce a completely new one. This is the only part where I would say that scientists are ahead of kids, the rest of the process of problem solving remaining more or less the same. There have been studies supporting the fact that some toddlers are better at problem solving than adults. To read the entire article click here.
In drawing similarities between kids and scientists, it can easily be observed that methods of scientific thinking are not unknown or for us as humans. In fact, they remain very much the same throughout the course of our learning and development, merely being continuously refined. As adults we tend to get stuck in a particular problem solving mindset which suits us for the majority of the situations we tackle in our daily life. However when we get stuck it is a good idea to take a step back, crouch down and look at the problem through the eyes of a 4-year old. Who knows the silly solution you would generally dismiss might just be the best one.