Kristin Shutts, PhD

Shutts Slide of the Week image

Probability Learning: Changes in Behavior Across Time and Development

Legend: Left: For each trial in the task, a coin was hidden behind a rock, and participants had to guess where the coin was. There was a pattern to be learned across trials: Coins most often appeared behind Rock 5 (70% of the time), followed by Rocks 4 and 6 (10%), then Rocks 3 and 7 (5%). Rocks 1, 2, and 8 were never rewarded.  Right: At the outset of the experiment, participants exhibited primarily matching behavior (i.e., choosing each rock at the rate it was rewarded). Over the course of the experiment, both children and adults figured out that the best strategy was to choose the rock that had been rewarded most frequently in the past (because they could never know when a reward would appear at a particular location). Children “crossed over” to the second strategy somewhat later than adults did, however.

Citation: Plate RC, Fulvio JM, Shutts K, Green CS, Pollak SD. (2017). Probability Learning: Changes in Behavior Across Time and Development. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12718.

Abstract: Individuals track probabilities, such as associations between events in their environments, but less is known about the degree to which experience—within a learning session and over development—influences people’s use of incoming probabilistic information to guide behavior in real time. In two experiments, children (4–11 years) and adults searched for rewards hidden in locations with predetermined probabilities. In Experiment 1, children (n = 42) and adults (n = 32) changed strategies to maximize reward receipt over time. However, adults demonstrated greater strategy change efficiency. Making the predetermined probabilities more difficult to learn (Experiment 2) delayed effective strategy change for children (n = 39) and adults (n = 33). Taken together, these data characterize how children and adults alike react flexibly and change behavior according to incoming information.

About the Lab: The Shutts’ lab interests lie in the origins of object cognition and social cognition. It has a long-standing interest in how infants and children perceive and categorize objects, as well as a more recent, and now primary, interest in how infants and children apprehend their social world. They are particularly interested in the development of social categories and preferences in infancy and early childhood. When do children come to see themselves and others as belonging to different social categories (e.g., gender, ethnicity, social class), which distinctions matter most to children, and how does this change over development and a result of immersion in a particular culture? What mechanisms support the development of social categories and preferences, and what are the cognitive and affective consequences of children’s earliest social category formation?

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