Puzzled by jigsaw
May 14, 2013 2:45 PM   Subscribe

When my son was 2.5 years old he could solve jigsaw puzzle really really fast using some kind of mental math but when he was 3.5 years old he took longer. My friends with children also report similar trend. Does the brain develop in a way to explain this?
posted by london302 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any scientific backing for my opinion, but I don't think it's mental math. I think it is related to the way their short term memory works. You'll notice a young child has a great memory for certain types of details (names, words, etc.) but very poor memory of other things. For example, they'll correct a word you say wrongly in a book they haven't heard for a month but they won't remember which is their left and right hand. I think when they are doing a puzzle, they remember the different patterns around the puzzle and when they see a new piece, they remember the location of the pattern it matches. Anyway, based on empirical observation, that's my theory.
posted by Dansaman at 3:34 PM on May 14, 2013

Just wanted to say I'm curious about the answers.
I was the same way. I could solve jigsaw puzzles really fast, so much so that my mom would show me off to the family. I distinctly remember the day I stopped being able to do them.
We were at my aunts house and my mom brought this Peanuts puzzle of a beach... it was all sand except for Charlie Brown in the corner.
I know I had solved it once before so I dumped the pieces out in front of my Aunt and started the puzzle and I remember being confused that it was taking so long for me to find the correct pieces.

My mom noticed me struggling and was like "He usually does this faster..."
and after a few more minutes of barely finding any edge pieces that matched my aunt looked at me full of compassion and said "it's OK simple things." and I got up and left the room.

I tried a few after that day but I could never get back to that same proficiency.
Unfortunately, I have no recollection of what it was like when I was solving them... only what it was like to lose that gift.
posted by simplethings at 3:39 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

While I have no specifics on puzzle solving, regression of skills is a normal part of early childhood development. It's most often noticeable with language: a child will acquire early language and then lose at least some vocabulary for a period when they acquire a new skill like walking.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:12 PM on May 14, 2013

My son was very good at puzzles, but my daughter wasn't. He was obviously doing the puzzles by looking at the shapes and she was looking at the pictures. He's two years younger, so let's say the two year old was better at it than the four year old when they did puzzles together. She didn't really like puzzles as much though, but maybe that's the difference between the younger kid technique and the older kid one?
posted by artychoke at 4:14 PM on May 14, 2013

In the developmental psych section of my intro class, there's a video that shows how younger children aren't great at cognitive switching. They use a card sorting task with both red and blue pictures of boats and rabbits. If a 3-year-old is first asked to sort by shape, they're good, but if you ask them to then sort by color, they just stick with the old rule. Older kids understand switching. I'm not a developmental psychologist, and a quick search didn't turn up any clear connections with puzzles, but this might work with what artychoke observed. Maybe younger children are putting all the effort into one of the qualities of the pieces, but older children are switching.
posted by bizzyb at 4:39 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This could be related to prefrontal cortex development. Essentially, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last areas of the brain to finish developing (around age 25!). This is an area of the brain that helps moderate impulse and self-control issues.

So why would this interfere with puzzles? Because as the prefrontal cortex develops, one thing that becomes increasingly challenging is task switching - the old pat-your-stomach-rub-your-head thing. The less development you have, the easier this kind of task is (also, if you are tired).

Puzzles might fall into this category by dint of the colours/pictures etc on the puzzle distracting from the shape - the actual challenge. It's possible that very young children are not "distracted" by anything but puzzle shape; and that this focus grows more difficult as they age.

I am not an anything, this is just speculation (the cortex and switching stuff is all true, but).
posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

It happens with language too. First they are mimicking, so they use proper forms. Then, they start to internalize rules, which makes them over-correct. A two year old will say that they thought something, while a four year old is likely to have thinked it.
posted by xo at 6:31 PM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Are the puzzles for three-year olds more complex? Maybe that's why it takes longer.
posted by jeffhoward at 10:59 PM on May 14, 2013

In a cognitive psych class, our professor said that children see the world in pictures...and their brains haven't transitioned to verbal-centric thinking. So a 2-3 year old can kick any adult's ass in the game "Memory." If I remember correctly, he said around 3 years old was roughly when that starts to change. Maybe that has something to do with it?
posted by hannahelastic at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I can definitely corroborate the kicking ass at Memory. I remember thinking my kid was freakin' genius at two when she could remember every single card in a memory game the very first time she played it. She's all normal at it now, though.
posted by looli at 6:23 PM on May 15, 2013

There's something comparable (maybe) in primary progressive aphasia (a type of early onset dementia) where language is the first casualty. Memory is initially spared. As language is progressively lost artistic representation and musicality, both arguably impeded by language, can improve remarkably, for a time. It's what hannahelastic is suggesting only in reverse.
posted by de at 8:41 AM on May 16, 2013

« Older a change is gonna came   |   Need practical advice on lettering a graphic novel... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.