Knowing when to quit: Children consider access to solutions when deciding whether to persist

AbstractAlthough persistence is essential to overcoming challenges and making new discoveries, continued effort can be costly. Even very young learners must make decisions about when to invest effort and when to abandon a task. In the current study, we explore whether children’s decisions about when to exert effort are influenced by the information they stand to gain in a particular learning situation. That is, we examine whether providing children with solutions after they attempt to complete a challenging task reduces their persistence. Sixty 4- and 5-year-old children completed a series of iSpy puzzles and then attempted to activate a novel toy. Children were either presented with the solutions after attempting each task or given no information about the answers. Our results demonstrate that children persisted longer at attempting to activate a novel toy when their effort was more likely to be the only source of information: children who expected to be provided with the solution gave up faster than those who did not. We discuss the implications of these findings on children’s rational decisions about when effort is worthwhile, and consider how providing answers might impact motivation and curiosity more broadly.

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