While you may beat a child in chess or mind games, new research
shows that they have their own little strengths.
“We often think of children as deficient in many skills when compared to adults. But sometimes what seems like a deficiency can actually be an advantage,” said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. “That’s what we found in our study. Children are extremely curious and they tend to explore everything, which means their attention is spread out, even when they’re asked to focus. That can sometimes be helpful.”
The study involved 35 adults and 34 children ages 4 to 5 years old. On the first experiment, they were shown a computer screen with two shapes of different colors, with one shape overlaying the other. They were asked to focus on just one particular of those two and has to then report what has been the changes in it. Adults were really great at it, slightly performing better than the children with 94 percent accuracy compared to 86 percent of the time for children. Thing is, the other non-target shape or the other one they were not told to focus on is actually still a part of the experiment. “[And] children were much better than adults at noticing when the non-target shape changed,” Sloutsky said. Noticing it 77 percent of the time compared to 63 percent for adults.
“What we found is that children were paying attention to the shapes that they weren’t required to,” he said. “Adults, on the other hand, tended to focus only on what they were told was needed.”
For the second experiment, drawings of artificial creatures were shown to them having either an X or an O. However, there were other features they weren't told; lightning bolt on the end of their tail or a fluffy ball. They were then instructed to find one feature, such as the “X” on the body among the “Os". While both were accurate in finding the X, children can remember better (72 percent versus 59 percent) the other features they were not asked to attend to!
“The ability to focus attention is what allows adults to sit in two-hour meetings and maintain long conversations, while ignoring distractions,” Sloutsky said. “But young children’s use of distributed attention allows them to learn more in new and unfamiliar settings by taking in a lot of information.”
“Children can’t handle a lot of distractions. They are always taking in information, even if it is not what you’re trying to teach them. We need to make sure that we are aware of that and design our classrooms, textbooks and educational materials to help students succeed. Perhaps a boring classroom or a simple black and white worksheet means less distraction and more successful learning,” Sloutsky added.