Seth Pollak, PhD – Slide of the Week

Seth Pollak, PhD - Slide of the Week

Title: Importance of Predictability for Children

Citation: Xu, Y., Harms, M. B., Green, C. S., Wilson, R. C., & Pollak, S. D. (2023). Childhood unpredictability and the development of exploration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 120(49), e2303869120.

Abstract: Early in development, the process of exploration helps children gather new information that fosters learning about the world. Yet, it is unclear how childhood experiences may influence the way humans approach new learning. What influences decisions to exploit known, familiar options versus trying a novel alternative? We found that childhood unpredictability, characterized by unpredictable caregiving and unstable living environments, was associated with reduced exploratory behavior. This effect holds while controlling for individual differences, including anxiety and stress. Individuals who perceived their childhoods as unpredictable explored less and were instead more likely to repeat previous choices (habitual responding). They were also more sensitive to uncertainty than to potential rewards, even when the familiar options yielded lower rewards. We examined these effects across multiple task contexts and via both in-person (N = 78) and online replication (N = 84) studies among 10- to 13-y-olds. Results are discussed in terms of the potential cascading effects of unpredictable environments on the development of decision-making and the effects of early experience on subsequent learning.

Seth Pollak, PhD
Seth Pollak, PhD

Investigator: Seth Pollak, PhD

About the Lab: Research projects in The Child Emotion lab are focused upon children’s emotional development and the relationship between early emotional experience and child psychopathology. We are particularly interested in understanding two related aspects of emotional development:

  • What are the mechanisms of normal emotional development?
  • To what extent are emotions shaped by nature and nurture?
  • Does it make sense to try and separate biology and experience?
  • How are emotions related to the development of psychopathology in children?
  • Might the development of emotional processes help explain the link between people’s early experiences and later development of psychological difficulties?

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