Meta-strategy learning in physical problem solving: the effect of embodied experience

TitleMeta-strategy learning in physical problem solving: the effect of embodied experience
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsAllen, K, Smith, KA, Bird, L, Tenenbaum, JB, Makin, T, Cowie, D
Date Published08/2021

Embodied cognition suggests that our experience in our bodies -- including our motor experiences -- shape our cognitive and perceptual capabilities broadly. Much work has studied how differences in the physical body (either natural or manipulated) can impact peoples cognitive and perceptual capacities, but often these judgments relate directly to those body differences. Here we focus instead on how natural embodied experience affects what kinds of abstract physical problem-solving strategies people use in a virtual task. We compare how groups with different embodied experience -- children and adults with congenital limb differences versus those born with two hands -- perform on this task, and find that while there is no difference in overall accuracy or time to complete the task, the groups use different meta-strategies to come to solutions. Specifically, both children and adults born with limb differences take a longer time to think before acting, and as a result take fewer overall actions to reach solutions to physical reasoning problems. Conversely, the process of development affects the particular actions children use as they age regardless of how many hands they were born with, as well as their persistence with their current strategy. Taken together, our findings suggest that differences in embodied experience drive the acquisition of different meta-strategies for balancing acting with thinking, deciding what kinds of actions to try, and deciding how persistent to be with a current action plan.

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