Children ages 4-5 notice details that adults often miss, even when asked to focus on something else, two studies from Ohio University revealed on Monday.
Research shows that children tend to notice all the information presented to them, while adults tend to remember just the things they’re asked to focus on.
“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, study co-author and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
In the first study, 35 adults and 34 children ages 4-5 were shown computers images of a red shape and green shape, one overlapping the other. The subjects were asked to pay attention to one particular shape, or target.
The shapes vanished, replaced by another screen that contained another set of shapes. The adults and children were asked whether the previous shapes matched the new screen.
The shapes stayed the same for some subjects, while changing for others. In some instances, the target shape was different. In others, the non-target shape changed, even though it wasn’t the one participants were asked to watch.
Adults were better at noticing the change of the target shape than children (94 percent versus 86 percent), but children were better than adults at noticing when the non-target shape changed (77 percent versus 63 percent).
“What we found is that children were paying attention to the shapes that they weren’t required to,” Sloutsky said. “Adults, on the other hand, tended to focus only on what they were told was needed.”
During the second experiment, the children and adults were shown drawings of fictional creatures with various features. Participants were asked to focus on one feature, such as a lightning bolt tail, but not the others. Again, the adults were more accurate than the children at pointing out the target feature.
However, when asked to remember the creatures’ other characteristics in later images, the adults were 59 percent accurate, while the children were 72 percent accurate.
“The point is that children don’t focus their attention as well as adults, even if you ask them to,” Sloutsky said. “They end up noticing and remembering more.”
The research shows the importance of creating a supportive learning environment in classrooms.
“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,” Sloutsky added. “We need to make sure that we are aware of that and design our classrooms, textbooks and educational materials to help students succeed.”