I was working in the church nusery yesterday when I noticed that none of the children were playing with the electronic talking/singing/lighting toys. Then I thought about how my grandmother said she kept kids occupied for hours with an empty coffee can and some clothes pins. They would sit on the floor, dump them out, and put them back in over and over agian.
I wondered to myself, “Why would a child be occupied with that and not with the battery-operated toys popular for the current generation?”
Then I began thinking about all the psychology that I have read over the years.
People enjoy randomness and chance. That is why there are gambling addicts. They keep playing the same machine for hours hoping that the new outcome will be different than the last one. Humans also respond better when rewards are random rather than every time. If one knows that there will be a reward every time, he or she will put forth less effort. But if a reward is randomly given, there is more effort because each time the person thinks that THIS will be the time of reward.
This is how all that applies to toys: A child will become bored with a toy that does the same thing every time the same button is pushed. Once the child figures out that the toy is predictable, he or she decides that the outcome is not worth the effort and loses interest. However, every time the clothes pins are dumped out of the can, they land in a different order and give a different sound. Each clothespin dropped in the can gives a different sound. There is a surprise every time, and since it is endlessly random, the child will not lose interest as quickly.