Younger children make more informed decisions than older children, study finds

WATERLOO, Ontario — Can’t make up your mind on something? Ask a little kid. A study by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada shows that younger children tend to make better decisions than older children — or at least more informed ones.

Researchers say the older one gets in childhood, the more one ignores certain pieces of information available when making judgments. This shift in making decisions as we age leads to faster decisions, but also more mistakes.

“Children maybe aren’t taking all the information we are giving them at face value,” says study co-author Samatha Gualtieri, a Ph.D. student at the university, in a release. “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.”

The researchers noted that children start making these shortcuts in their decision-making at age four, and by age six, they are taking shortcuts at rates as high as adults.

Researchers conducted two experiments in which 288 children total were assessed to determine which types of information they used to make judgments: social, numerical, or both.

Nearly all of the six-year-olds (95%) depended solely on social information to make a decision, while 70% of the five-year-olds and 45% of the four-year-olds relied on social information. The younger children in the study were more likely to take both social and numerical information into account when making judgments.

“It is good for us to know that kids at different ages don’t necessarily treat all information similarly when we set out to teach them new things,” says study co-author Stephanie Denison, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

The researchers are quick to point out that older children’s overuse of social information in decision-making is not in itself a negative. The study merely shows how children value different types of information when making decisions. Adults have usually grown accustomed to dismissing certain aspects of information when making judgments to conserve time and mental energy. Because adults make thousands of decisions a day, this is perfectly natural and understandable.

“How much time you spend on processing information might depend on the importance of the judgement or the decision you’re making,” says Denison. “So, thinking about where you want to spend the time is really important.”

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

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