The effects of environment and ownership on children's innovation of tools and tool material selection

Kimberly Sheridan, Abigail Konopasky, Sophie Kirkwood, Margaret Anne Defeyter

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Research indicates that in experimental settings, young children of 3–7 years old are unlikely to devise a simple tool to solve a problem. This series of exploratory studies done in museums in the US and UK explores how environment and ownership of materials may improve children's ability and inclination for (i) tool material selection and (ii) innovation. The first study takes place in a children's museum, an environment where children can use tools and materials freely. We replicated a tool innovation task in this environment and found that while 3–4 year olds showed the predicted low levels of innovation rates, 4–7 year olds showed higher rates of innovation than the younger children and than reported in prior studies. The second study explores the effect of whether the experimental materials are owned by the experimenter or the child on tool selection and innovation. Results showed that 5–6 year olds and 6–7 year olds were more likely to select tool material they owned compared to tool material owned by the experimenter, although ownership had no effect on tool innovation. We argue that learning environments supporting tool exploration and invention and conveying ownership over materials may encourage successful tool innovation at earlier ages.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20150191
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1690
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2016


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