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The older you get, the worse at making decisions you may become

Younger children are more likely to take both numerical and social information into account, new research has found.

Image: Shutterstock/ClaudioValdes

THE OLDER A person gets, the worse they can be at making certain decisions, new research has found.

An international study has found that younger children seem to make slightly better decisions than older children.

The older children become, the more they tend to ignore some of the information available to them when making judgements, which though efficient can also lead to mistakes.

In two experiments carried out by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, 288 children were assessed to determine whether they used numerical, social or both types of information when making judgements.

The vast majority (95%) of the six-year-olds depended on only social information to make a judgement, compared with 70% of five-year-olds and 45% of four-year-olds. The younger children were more likely to take both pieces of information into account.

“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,” co-author and psychology professor Stephanie Denison said.

“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,” fellow co-author and PhD student Samantha Gualtieri said.

“Our research shows that children around four years old are starting to use these shortcuts, but by six years of age they’re using them at levels as high as adults,” she added.

Processing information

The researchers do not deem older children’s overuse of social information as negative, saying it simply shows how children weigh information when making decisions.

Adults also tend to not use all the information at their disposal when making judgements, possibly because it is time-consuming and requires too much mental energy.

“So, while using these shortcuts is actually very efficient, we need to be aware that they can introduce errors,” Denison said.

Therefore, sometimes we should be thinking harder and taking the time to put together all of the information.

“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.”

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

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Órla Ryan

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