There is an ever-widening gap between what humans can naturally learn and what they need to learn to be successful adults in today's modern society, a University of Missouri researcher says on the subject.
David Geary, Curators' Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, says that schools might have helped bridge the gap between evolution and new knowledge, but more may need to be done.
"Schools need to push children to learn things that they do not do naturally, which is more important as our knowledge of the world continues to expand. Learning is not always going to be fun and children should not expect it to be. Attempting to engage children by making activities fun, causes those activities to become more similar to what students are already doing naturally and can limit new learning," said Geary.
He said that one reason why US students seemed weaker than pupils in other countries in subjects like science and maths could be because America is moving away from traditional practices of learning information through repetition.
He pointed out that US schools often stressed more on group and social interactions to teach topics, something that can be challenging.
"From an evolutionary perspective, what we are designed to do and what culture says we now have to do, is very different. We should not expect what comes naturally to us to be the best way to learn something new," Geary said.
Geary says that humans have evolved to naturally learn basic skills like social interactions.
However, adds the researcher, because of the fast expansion of new academic knowledge, humans are not yet equipped to easily understand things like chemistry, mathematics or physics.
Humans prefer to engage in peer relationships because of natural bias that helps them learn about and influence their peer groups.
Even though the need to learn about others now comes naturally, mastering things like linear algebra does not because it is a recent cultural innovation.
"Learning mechanisms in humans have evolved to support the transfer of culturally useful knowledge. However, we are now at a point in human history where the abilities needed to function in a high-tech, modern society have surpassed the capacity of those simple learning mechanisms," Geary said.
The study has been published in the Educational Psychologist journal.