It’s not the treasure, it’s the hunt: Children are more explorative on an explore/exploit task than adults

AbstractThe current study investigates how children act on a standard explore-exploit bandit task relative to adults. In Experiment 1, we used child-friendly versions of the bandit task and found that children did not play in a way that maximized payout. However, children were able to identify the machines that had the highest level of payout and overwhelmingly preferred it. We also show that children’s exploration is not random. For example, children selected the bandits from left to right multiple times. In Experiment 2, we had adults complete the task in Experiment 1 with different sets of instructions. When told to maximize learning, adults explored the task in much the same way that children did. Together, these results suggest that children are more interested in exploring than exploiting, and a potential explanation for this is that children are trying to learn as much about the environment as they can.

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