Natural science: Active learning in dynamic physical microworlds

Neil Bramley, Tobias Gerstenberg, Joshua B. Tenenbaum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


In this paper, we bring together research on active learning and intuitive physics to explore how people learn about "microworlds" with continuous spatiotemporal dynamics. Participants interacted with objects in simple two-dimensional worlds governed by a physics simulator, with the goal of identifying latent physical properties such as mass, and forces of attraction or repulsion. We find an advantage for active learners over passive and yoked controls. Active participants spontaneously performed several kinds of "natural experiments" which reveal the objects' properties with varying success. While yoked participants' judgments were affected by the quality of the active participant they observed, they did not share the learning advantage, performing no better than passive controls overall. We discuss possible explanations for the divergence between active and yoked learners, and outline further steps to categorize and explore active learning in the wild.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
EditorsA. Papafragou, D. Grodner, D. Mirman, J.C. Trueswell
Place of PublicationAustin, TX
PublisherCognitive Science Society
ISBN (Print)9780991196739
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016
EventCogsci2016 - 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society - , United States
Duration: 10 Aug 2016 → …


ConferenceCogsci2016 - 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
CountryUnited States
Period10/08/16 → …


  • active learning
  • intuitive physics
  • casuality
  • probabilistic inference
  • mental simulation


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