Establishing Predictors of Insight Problem Solving In Children
Cognitive control, the ability to limit attention to goal-relevant information, subserves higher-order cognitive functions such as reasoning, attention, planning and organization. Counterintuitively, deficits in these functions have proven advantageous in certain contexts: low cognitive control means less filtering of attention, and such unfiltered attention leads to novel solutions in insight problem solving contexts. Insight is the clear and often sudden discernment of a solution to a problem by means that are not obvious, and it plays an indispensable role in creative thinking. This study examined whether insight problem solving is a compensatory advantage for children of low socioeconomic status because of their known deficits in cognitive control. One hundred and forty-eight children ages 4 to 11 years old, each completed two insight problem solving tasks (the Box Problem and the Pencil Problem) and a cognitive control task (the Flanker/Reverse Flanker). In addition, their parents completed a sociodemographic questionnaire, which was used as a measure of their socioeconomic status and child rearing values of obedience versus independence. No association was found between children’s socioeconomic status and their ability to use insight to solve a problem. Results did show that older children exhibited less cognitive flexibility than did to younger children, and that diminished cognitive flexibility correlated with older children’s ability to solve the Box Problem; however, this effect did not hold when age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, and parental report of obedience versus independence, were accounted for. Ultimately, age was the only significant predictor of children’s insight problem solving ability, such that older children were significantly more likely to solve the Box Problem and to arrive at a solution more quickly for the Pencil Problem compared to younger children. Findings from this study are explained using evidence from research on children’s tool innovation showing that young children are poor at inventing tools, and that older children’s ability to use objects for atypical functions may be the result of their greater exposure to and experience with tools.