One day not long ago, Augie, a 4-year-old Gopnik grandchild, heard his grandfather wistfully say, “I wish I could be a kid again.” After a thoughtful pause, Augie came up with a suggestion: Grandpa should try not eating any vegetables. The logic was ingenious: Eating vegetables turns children into big strong adults, so not eating vegetables should reverse the process.
No grown-up would ever come up with that idea. But anyone with a 4-year-old can tell similar stories. Young children’s creativity seems to outstrip that of even the most imaginative adults.
How does the ability to come up with unusual ideas change as we grow older? Does it begin to flag in adolescence? Before then? To investigate these questions, we and our colleagues recently conducted several experiments, which we relate in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.