Smaller children use a more accurate decision making process than their older counterparts

We‘ve all been told that we get wiser the older we are. We understand life better, we learn from our mistakes, we start making better decisions. But scientists from the University of Waterloo say that may not be the case at all. A new study showed that the older you get, the worse your decisions are. At least when you‘re a child – smaller kids make more informed decisions than their older counterparts.

There aren’t that many decisions children have to make, but they still start using our shortcuts pretty early. Image credit: Enfo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

But what makes a good decision? Well, usually we determine by the outcome, but in some cases it may be a lottery. Therefore, scientists think that better decisions are made using more of the available information. And it looks like younger children are more willing to do that. It is quite important – knowing how children of different ages use available information is exactly what we need to know when creating methods of how to teach them. We forget how we were thinking about the world when we were children ourselves. This means that we cannot imagine how children are taking information that we provide.

We as humans cannot take too much information at once. It is just too difficult and too taxing on our brain. We start using shortcuts – we take information in a way that makes the most sense to us. Children do not have this kind of skill at early age – they cannot take shortcuts, they have to use as much information as they can when making decisions. They only start using these kind of shortcuts at the adult level at the age of six. This research involved 288 children, who had to complete tasks that allowed scientists to see if they are using numerical, social, or both types of information when making judgments. 45 % of four-year-olds depended exclusively on social information, compared to 70 % of five-year-olds and 95 % of six-year-olds.

But is it bad that older children prefer using social information? Not at all. Other types of decision making requires more of mental energy and efforts, which is why adults tend to use social information more as well. However, not taking all the information into account introduces errors to our decision making process. Stephanie Denison, co-author of the study, said: “How much time you spend on processing information might depend on the importance of the judgement or the decision you’re making. So, thinking about where you want to spend the time is really important”.

Understanding this will allow educators to create better programmes for children. They take information in a different way than adults and we have to learn to present it in a way that they would understand. It is also interesting that six-year-olds already use our shortcuts to save their mental energy.


Source: University of Waterloo


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