It’s my Birthday this month and I’m turning 26, a significant age I think; I no longer fit neatly into the ’25 and under’ category. Alas, never again will I be eligible for £5 RSC tickets…. My impending initiation into the 26+ group has led to my thinking about age and the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At what point do we become adults? Is there a predefined age that we reach and suddenly discover a matured perspective on life? Potential milestones exist that are feasible options for the onset of adulthood: reaching 18, moving out of the family home, starting the first ‘career job’, getting married, having children. Conceptions of adulthood are characterised by responsibility, rationality and lack of spontaneity, much different to how childhood is perceived. Is there indeed a fundamental shift from how we feel and behave in adolescence to adulthood, or is it simply that responsibility prevails over the child within?
Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson (2010), researchers at North Dakota State University, explored adult creativity using the Torrence Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). In their study ‘Child’s play: Facilitating the originality of creative output by a priming manipulation’, 76 participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions and then tested for creativity. Experimental condition participants were told, “You are 7 years old, school is cancelled and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?” Control condition participants were told the same except the first sentence was removed; they therefore approached the question from an adult perspective. Participants that imagined themselves as being 7 years old, produced much more imaginative responses on the creativity tests that followed. For example, inventing alternative uses for an old car tyre, or finishing an incomplete sketch. Researchers found the effect to be particularly pronounced among introverted participants. They concluded that in thinking like an adult we are more inclined to provide conventional responses that lack imagination. However, thinking like a child is entirely possible for adults and in doing so, creativity can flourish.
Best-selling author Jack Uldrich supports the findings of the North Dakota State researchers; he believes that when people think like a child they begin to see “problems, people and things” from a fresh perspective. He describes the process by which a child learns: asking questions, being tenacious, and embracing their own ignorance. He argues that as adults we lose the ability to learn this way, we become consumed with how we are being perceived by those around us. So, whereas children are open-minded when presented with something new, adults are influenced by existing opinions gained from past experiences. This theory is proven with the use of optical illusions.
Question: Is the circle to the rear of the image smaller, equal to, or larger in size than the circle the arrow points to?
Martin Doherty et al. (2010) discovered in their study ‘The Ebbinghaus illusion deceives adults but not young children’ that young children, particularly under the age of 7 years, discriminate sizes more accurately than adults when the context is misleading. Adults found it much more difficult to judge sizes correctly in this task, Doherty states that “when visual context is misleading, adults literally see the world less accurately than they did as children.” The circle at the rear of the image is in fact equal in size to the circle that the arrow points to, did you answer correctly? I’ll be honest I had to double check with my trusty ruler! It is hard for us to recognise things that do not support our prior learnt knowledge; our knowledge can sometimes narrow our field of vision, and decrease possibilities for learning new things.
Question: What do you see in the image below?
Adults see a loving embrace, children see 9 dolphins…
Thinking and behaving in a more child-like way is therefore beneficial for nurturing creativity and solving problems, but it has also been found to improve other areas of life. The ‘power of play’ is a concept that many employers have implemented in the workplace to boost morale and productivity amongst employees. Play has been shown to reduce stress, increase energy levels and enhance optimism. Alison Gopnik is a Psychologist specialised in children’s learning and development, she asserts that children are very good at distinguishing between fantasy and reality and contrary to traditional belief they do not participate in pretend play because they have limited minds, but because they have incredibly powerful imaginative abilities that adults struggle to match. I came across an article by Susan Taylor Brown that lists 50 ways to think like a child, I’ve chosen my favourites to share so that we can all begin to tap into our long lost imagination!
Play With Your Food
Place olives on the ends of your fingers
Buy a Colouring Book and a Box of Crayons
Colour inside the lines and hang the picture on your wall
Find a Park and Go Down the Slide
Go to a Roller Disco
Skate round holding hands in a big line!
Dig a Hole and Sit in it
If you find worms, make a worm farm (not sure what that is?!)
Lie on Your Back and Watch the Clouds
Build a Fort in the Living Room
Take a torch and a packed lunch, preferably in a Dora the Explorer/Spiderman themed plastic box with matching flask
There can be few adults that haven’t occasionally wished that they could go back and relive their younger days, with the benefit of hindsight that adulthood brings. At the risk of sounding clichéd and old before my time; children are in a terrible hurry to grow up. Being the youngest of four I indulged in infantile fun and basked in my immaturity throughout my childhood and adolescence. I am yet to feel like a fully-fledged adult, although aspects of my personality beg to differ. I am in my element snuggled up on the sofa with a brew and a fig roll watching Emmerdale. I found this article on the turmoil of growing old ‘Why don’t people act their age?’ hilarious and very true, my favourite quote:
‘We eagerly anticipated the moment when our grandchildren would hop on our lap and let us tell them the story of ordering our first McDonald’s hamburger. (“And it was 15 cents!”) Now we text message them to see if they want to come over and play Wii.’
Indisputably it isn’t entirely practical for people to spend all their adult lives playing games and attempting to regain their lost youth. Rosjke Hasseldine, a psychotherapist and relationship consultant argues that “striving to be younger robs us of our money, time, mental space and self-esteem” and instead we should concentrate on what is positive about our age and what our life experiences have taught us. Whilst this is true, I think we could all benefit from a more open-minded approach to life. Rather than adhering to fictional rules on how an adult should behave, why not make a concerted effort to add fun and spontaneity to your life? Sometimes it is necessary for people to think like children in order to achieve success as adults. Why should kids have all the fun? First item on my to-do list is to build a fort in my living room, packed lunch in hand, Twinings finest tea in my Dora flask and preferably the Emmerdale Christmas special on the telly.
How old do you act? Take the test to find out: