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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Predicting children's and adults' preferences in physical interactions via physics simulation


Curiosity is a fundamental driver of human behavior, and yet because of its open-ended nature and the wide variety of behaviors it inspires in different contexts, it is remarkably difficult to study in a laboratory context. A promising approach to developing and testing theories of curiosity is to instantiate them in artificial agents that are able to act and explore in a simulated environment, and then compare the behavior of these agents to humans exploring the same stimuli. Here we propose a new experimental paradigm for examining children's -- and AI agents' -- curiosity about objects' physical interactions. We let them choose which object to drop another object onto in order to create the most interesting effect. We compared adults' (N=155) and children's choices (N=66; 3-7 year-olds) and found that both children and adults show a strong preference for choosing target objects that could potentially contain the dropped object. Adults alone also make choices consistent with achieving support relations. We contextualize our results using heuristic computational models based on 3D physical simulations of the same scenarios judged by participants.

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