Warning to adults: Children notice everything

Posted on August 14, 2019

Researchers surprised adults and 4-5-year-old children participating in the study by making information that was irrelevant at the beginning of the experiment suddenly important for a task that they had to complete. Researchers then found out that adults had a harder time readjusting because they didn’t learn the information, they thought would not be important.

Children, on the other hand – recovered quickly to the new circumstances because they were not ignoring anything. It has been found that children do notice most things, even when you think they don’t. These results show that children distribute their attention broadly, while adults use selective attention to focus on information which helps them to learn more.

In one study, the researchers had 34 adults and 36 4-year-old children participate in a learning task. They were presented with colorful images of "alien" creatures on a computer that had seven identifiable features, including antennae, head and tail.

Different from the initial instructions, participants – adults and children – were tasked to identify an irrelevant feature from what was previously determined. After the shift, the adults were more confused than the children were. They also had more difficulty trying to learn the importance of the new feature. In contrast, the children were quick to realize that the formerly irrelevant feature was now the feature to be identified.

In this study, the adults suffer from ‘learned inattention’ – suggesting that adults usually do not pay attention to the formerly irrelevant feature as they believed that it would not be important. Children as young as those in this study often have difficulty focusing attention in the way that the adults did due to the immaturity of their pre-frontal cortex.

Researchers further clarified that the adults have no problem distributing attention broadly if necessary. However, in many tasks that adults do every day, selective attention is more helpful. It is thus clear that for optimal performance at most jobs, selective attention is necessary. But distributed attention might be useful when you're learning something new and need to see everything that is going on.

Category(s):Child Development

Source material from Science Daily

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