While adults are said to exhibit an “order bias” (choosing ‘heads’ when asked ‘heads or tails’), for kids the reverse may be true, according to a study. This can pose a problem for parents, particularly when asking whether a toddler “threw food by accident or on purpose”, asking the child to pick one response.
“Since younger children possess a limited memory capacity, children could be relying on the phonological loop to remember the option following the word ‘or’. The phonological loop accounts for recency biases in adults, meaning that during free recall the most recently listed options are more accessible,” noted the study, published in the journal Plos One.
The research focused on the following points, it reported:
- Toddlers demonstrate a robust verbal recency bias when asked ‘or’ questions in a lab-based task and a naturalistic corpus of caretaker-child speech interactions.
- The recency bias weakens with age.
- The recency bias strengthens as the syllable-length of the choices gets longer.
“Taken together, these results indicate that children show a different type of response bias than adults, recency instead of primacy. Further, the results may suggest that this bias stems from increased constraints on children’s working memory,” the research pointed out.
Trying to understand how children’s thinking works, researchers led by Emily Sumner at the University of California, Irvine, tested 24 one- to two-year-olds in a game where children had to choose between two responses. They were first introduced to a bear character on a sticker — Rori, a polar bear or Quinn, a grizzly — and asked to make decisions on its behalf. The question could be: Does Rori live in an igloo or a tepee? With the options switched a little later. The toddlers could speak or point at either of two stickers when answering. According to the study, “When the children answered the questions by pointing, they chose the second option about half the time, right around chance. But when the toddlers spoke their answers, they chose the second option 85 percent of the time, regardless of the bear.”
In another exercise, the visual stimuli consisted of 20 pictures of collectible figures, where “toy name options were varied in word length up to four-syllables long”. Researchers found that the recency bias was stronger when the words were longer. The reason, they felt, was related to children’s “limited working memory capacity”.