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The evidence that humans are a highly innovative species is all around us. We are surrounded by tools – from the humble hammer to sophisticated smartphones – that have been invented by humans, but how does this innovative capacity arise during children’s development? We have known for a long time that children are adept at using tools, but until recently we knew little about how they make tools. A group of Psychologists and a Biologist from University of Birmingham, led by Dr Sarah Beck, have been investigating tool making in children, and in particular whether children can make novel tools to solve a problem, without having seen an example of the tool they need before they try it. The new paper reports two studies in which we investigated whether children’s problems with tool making is the result of impulsivity or problem solving abilities. We found that despite prompts to try different strategies and extra thinking time to plan 4- to 7-year-olds found tool making very difficult. This suggests that tool making might be a particularly difficult type of ‘ill-structured’ problem for children to solve.

Sarah Beck

Chappell, J., Cutting, N., Apperly, I.A., Beck, S.R. 2013. The development of tool manufacture in humans: what helps young children make innovative tools? Phil Trans R Soc B 20120409