I’m a bit of a money geek. Not too crazy, but I like to keep an eye on what I have. So I read a couple of personal finance blogs. Recently, Monevator had an article titled, “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and it pointed me to an interesting group of articles of interest to implicit modelers:
Appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the mystery of overimitation has been a long-standing one in developmental psychology. How is it that young children, who are able to learn and reason in so many impressively agile ways, can be utterly stumped by something as simple as the transparent Puzzle Box shown above? Specifically, when kids see an adult getting a prize out of that box in a way that adults — and even chimpanzees — can easily identify as clumsy and inefficient, they seem to lose the ability to figure out how to open the box “correctly”. Watching an adult doing it wrong, in other words, effectively blocks children from figuring out how to do it right. Children become stuck overimitating — or copying the adult’s wasteful strategy, even when doing so leads to bad outcomes.
We humans are too smart for our own good, and make things harder than they need to be. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary in discovering that. But I hadn’t heard of “overimitating” before. I’d heard that implicit modeling is the way we all do it from birth; it’s the way babies learn practically everything. At the same time, we forget how long it takes for babies to get it right. We don’t want to take seven to eight years to, say, learn a language… we want to hold a coherent conversation in a few weeks.
It’s important, then, when we model by imitation, to remember to take the model apart and find out what needs to be there and what doesn’t. We don’t want to have to tap stuff with a feather just because that’s how we learned to do it.
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