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Searching for rewards like a child means less generalization and more directed exploration

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General Reference
author-supplied keywords
Eric Schulz
Charley M. Wu
Azzurra Ruggeri
Björn Meder
Searching for rewards like a child means less generalization and more directed exploration


How do children and adults differ in their search for rewards? We consider three different hypotheses that attribute developmental differences to either children’s increased random sampling, more directed exploration towards uncertain options, or narrower generalization. Using a search task in which noisy rewards are spatially correlated on a grid, we compare 55 younger children (age 7-8), 55 older children (age 9-11), and 50 adults (age 19-55) in their ability to successfully generalize about unobserved outcomes and balance the exploration-exploitation dilemma. Our results show that children explore more eagerly than adults, but obtain lower rewards. Building a predictive model of search to disentangle the unique contributions of the three hypotheses of developmental differences, we find robust and recoverable parameter estimates indicating that children generalize less and rely on directed exploration more than adults. We do not, however, find reliable differences in terms of random sampling.


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