Exploration and Attention in Young Children

AbstractExploration is critical for discovering how the world works. Exploration should be particularly valuable for young children, who have little knowledge about the world. Theories of decision-making describe systematic exploration as being primarily sub-served by prefrontal cortex (PFC). Recent research suggests that systematic exploration predominates in young children’s choices, despite immature PFC, suggesting that this systematic exploration may be driven by different mechanisms. We hypothesize that young children’s tendency to distribute attention widely promotes broad information gathering, which in turn translates to exploratory choice behavior, and that interrupting distributed attention allocation through bottom up attentional capture would also disrupt systematic exploration. We test this hypothesis using a simple choice task in which saliency of the options was manipulated. Saliency disrupted systematic exploration. These results suggest that attentional mechanisms may drive systematic exploratory behavior, and may be part of a larger tendency toward broad information gathering in young children.

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