Are we free to know? Unpacking the development of inductive learning from self-regulation to autonomy.
There is a tension within the cognitive and developmental sciences. Our ability to learn depends on our freedom of choice. How much freedom to give individuals to learn on their own, versus how much direct input to provide for what and how they “need to know” is currently under question. I describe research showing that cognitive regulation (the ability to control one's thoughts) is a foundational skill for developing self-directed learning, outweighing the effect of behavioral regulation (the ability to control one's behavior). Individuals need opportunities to exercise self-regulation if they are to learn effectively. I will show evidence supporting this connection: when adolescents are afforded greater autonomy, they more often have to consider multiple options, and this tends to transfer into more sophisticated reasoning on a causal learning task. By adolescence, the stakes may become even higher. Some autonomy may be a condition to buy into intellectual pursuits, beyond those expected of them. I next share research investigating the effects of autonomy on learning, and having the autonomy to do so. Future efforts move towards how to scale optimal environments for children's and adolescents' cognitive development.