Three-year-olds are still unable to consider alternatives when making decisions

(ORDO NEWS) — Although young children develop very quickly compared to teenagers, researchers from Harvard University recently found that even at the age of three, toddlers are not yet able to consider alternative possibilities when planning their decisions.

Imagine a situation in which you were offered three containers (one stands alone, two others are nearby), and you know for sure that two rewards are hidden in them: one is in a single container, the second is in one of the pairs.

Logic dictates that in such a situation it is best to choose a single container to maximize the chance of receiving a reward – however, this is the reasoning of an adult, while a three-year-old child will choose one of the paired containers, which may be empty, about half the time.

In other words, cognitive psychologists from Harvard University (USA) conclude that young children do not use the concept of “maybe”, and therefore cannot imagine that one of the two containers may or may not contain a reward.

Two-year-olds, as previous studies have shown, choose illogically in 50 percent of cases, in three-year-olds the chance of a “wise” choice rises to 60 percent.

To understand what motivates children when choosing a container, scientists conducted three experiments. In the first, psychologists asked three-year-olds to choose one container from singles and doubles to establish the percentage of “wise” choices.

In the second experiment, the children were asked to “throw away” one of the containers and receive the contents of the remaining two; this time, the little ones were logical and chose to throw away one of the paired containers 90 percent of the time, increasing their chances of success.

Finally, in the third experiment, the children were asked to discard one of the containers and choose one of the remaining two.

In the first half of the experiment, the children repeated the choice of the previous one they safely threw away one of the paired containers but when choosing the remaining container, logic again failed them: in half the cases, they pointed to the remaining paired container, although it might not contain a reward.

Thus, young children are still not able to fully consider alternative possibilities when making decisions, and in certain situations they behave very logically, while in others they rely on luck.


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