The Sensititivity of Five- to Ten-Year-Old Children to Value, Probability, and Loss

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Classic and contemporary researchers have studied the child's abilities to discriminate quantitative values, understand probability, and appreciate risk and uncertainty. The current studies were designed to extend and methodologically integrate recent insights that have been made across these sub-areas. A computerized decision-making task, which allows manipulation of probability of success and quantitative outcome value, was developed. In the first study, this task was used to analyze the development of preference between options with systematically contrasted numerical outcome values. Contrary to recent research, this study revealed that participants, and particularly younger children (i.e., five- and six-year-olds), tend to neglect quantitative outcome value information, and seem to base choices primarily on probability information. In the second study, the task was used to assess the development of preference between options with systematically contrasted probabilities of success. Consistent with recent research, this study revealed that even young participants attend to differences in probability of success between decision alternatives; however, younger participants seemed less able to explicitly integrate decision outcomes, as assessed by more explicit measures of probability understanding. In the third study, probability of success was again manipulated, but wins were combined with losses. This study revealed, like Study 2, that children adjusted preference as a function of probability of success; however, consistent with Study 1, this study revealed that children tend to neglect outcome values. Cross-study analyses were conducted which further demonstrated that decision-making probabilities loom larger than outcome values. Collectively, these studies suggest that processing of probabilities developmentally precedes processing of quantitative outcome values, and that implicit processing developmentally precedes explicit decision integration. In the conclusion these findings and possible future directions are discussed.