Young children will pass up rewards they know they can collect to explore other options, a new study suggests. Researchers found that when adults and 4- to 5-year-old children played a game where certain choices earned them rewards, both adults and children quickly learned what choices would give them the biggest returns.
But while adults then used that knowledge to maximize their prizes, children continued exploring the other options, just to see if their value may have changed. “Exploration seems to be a major driving force during early childhood – even outweighing the importance of immediate rewards,” said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.
“We believe it is because young children need to explore to help them understand how the world works.“ And despite what adults may think, kids’ search for new discoveries is anything but random. Results showed children approached exploration systematically, to make sure they didn’t miss anything. “When adults think of kids exploring, they may think of them as running around aimlessly, opening drawers and cupboards, picking up random objects,” Sloutsky said “But it turns out their exploration isn’t random at all.“ Sloutsky conducted the study with Nathaniel Blanco, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Ohio State.
However, there were some individual differences in children, he noted. A few children, for example, acted much like adults and nearly always chose the highest-value option. In the second experiment, a few children almost always avoided the hidden option. These variations may have to do with different levels of cognitive maturation in children, he said. But it appears that all children go through a phase where systematic exploration is one of their main goals. “Children’s seemingly erratic behavior at this age appears to be largely molded by a drive to stockpile information,” added Blanco.
Source: Science Daily