If you’ve ever spent time with a toddler, you know that they’re easily distracted, and even when you think they’re oblivious, they seem to hear everything (oops…). Well, two 2017 studies found that even though adults are superior at advanced cognitive tasks, kids have a leg up when it comes to noticing (and remembering) the world around them.
In the first study, 35 adults and 34 children (aged 4 to 5 years old) were shown a red shape and a green shape on a computer screen. Participants were told to pay attention to just one of the two shapes—that was their “target.” Then, the shapes disappeared. When the shapes reappeared, either the target shape had changed, the non-target shape had changed, or the shapes stayed the same. When the target shape changed, the adults were only 8 percent better at noticing than the kids. However, when the other shape changed, the kids dominated.
In a second, similar study, the subjects were shown photos of artificial creatures and asked to remember certain features, like X’s or O’s drawn on their bodies. Again, the adults were superior at noticing the target features, but Science Daily reports that the kids were “substantially more accurate than adults (72 percent versus 59 percent)” at remembering any other feature—like, say, a fluffy tail.
So, what does this tell us? Basically, kids have their own superpower. While adults excel at focusing attention (helpful in Boring Grown-up World), kids can’t help but soak up everything. This makes them more distractible, but better at consuming—and remembering—new information.
Besides being super cool, Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, explains the significance of this finding to Science Daily: “The fact that children don’t always do as well at focusing attention also shows the importance of designing the right learning environment in classrooms.” He advises educators to keep this in mind when designing “educational materials to help students succeed.” Translation? Fewer distractions = more successful learning.
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