The Younger Kids Are, The More Thoroughly They Consider Their Decisions
When it comes to kids and decision-making, the words impulsive and reckless might spring to mind. But according to new research, very young kids make quite well-considered decisions. In fact, in some ways, the older we get, the worse our judgement becomes.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, found that kids are better at making informed decisions at age 4 than at age 6. The older kids tended to take mental shortcuts in making decisions, effectively ignoring certain bits of pertinent information, in order to arrive at a conclusion faster. It’s something adults do all of the time. But while this skill makes for more efficient decision-making, it also makes for less well-considered decisions, and possibly more mistakes.
“Our research shows that children around 4 years old are starting to use these shortcuts, but by 6 years of age they’re using them at levels as high as adults,” says co-author Samantha Gualtieri, a PhD student at the University of Waterloo.
Gualtieri, and co-author Stephanie Denison, an associate professor of psychology at the University, conducted two experiments involving 288 children total. The experiments were designed to identify what kinds of information kids use in taking their decisions – numerical, social, or both. They found that 95% of 6-year-olds used only social information in decision-making, compared to 70% of 5-year-olds, and 45% of 4-year-olds. The younger the child, the more likely they were to use both types of information to make a decision.
However, the researchers explain, zooming in on only one type of information isn’t necessarily a failing or regression — after all, adults seldom process all of the information at their disposal when making judgments, possibly because it is time-consuming and requires lots of mental energy. Instead, the duo’s findings are simply a window into how children’s minds work, they say.
“Children maybe aren’t taking all the information we are giving them at face value. They may be thinking about it in their own way and using the data in the way they think makes the most sense, which is important for parents and teachers to understand,” says Gualtieri.