Celeste Kidd from the University of Rochester writes in with news of a new study on PLoS One, which attempts to quantify the amount of stimulus that is optimal for amusing and engaging babies:
This video discusses the results of eye-tracking study we recently did at the University of Rochester that explains how babies organize their search for information in the complex world (and thus make their learning process much more efficient). The findings suggest infants look away from experiences that are either overly simple (and thus contain no new information from which to learn), or overly complex (and thus too overwhelming to learn from efficiently).
Infants in the study reliably preferred scenes that contained just the right amount of information--that is, those that were a little bit, but not too, surprising. We dubbed this attention pattern the "Goldilocks effect". These findings could have broad implications for human learning at all ages, and we hope the research will facilitate the development of more effective educational policies and diagnostic tools for attention-related disabilities (such as ADHD and autism).
Also important, especially for parents and teachers, is the fact that this study demonstrates that the same response--namely, disinterest or boredom---may result from two different, entirely opposite mechanisms. Children are likely to become disinterested if the learning material is either too simple, because the material is either already known or may be picked up and understood quickly; however, they'll also show that same response of disinterest if the material is overly complex, likely because such material is just too overwhelming.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.