How toddlers (and monkeys) make choices

Posted by: Emily McManus


What’s the relationship between our happiness and the choices we make? TEDTalks from Barry Schwartz and Daniel Gilbert point out some paradoxes of this relationship, and the complex emotions involved in choice. Now, some new research from Yale sheds light on how toddlers and monkeys make choices. From the BPS Research Digest Blog:

Forty 4-year-olds used a scale of smiley faces to indicate how much they liked a range of animal stickers. For each child, the researchers identified three stickers which that child liked equally – let’s call these A, B, C. Each child then faced two choices – first to choose which of A or B they would like to take home. Afterwards, they then had to choose between sticker C and whichever sticker (A or B) they hadn’t selected before.

The surprising result was, faced with the second choice, the kids overwhelmingly picked sticker C — though they’d liked all three stickers equally at first. The other surprising result was, the researchers got the same result with capuchin monkeys, who chose among three different-colored M&Ms.

For more on this study, read the journal abstract or a detailed post on the blog The Proper Study of Mankind.

Photo from Wikimedia:
Cebus capucinus: Capuchin Monkeys Sharing
Source: Powell K: Economy of the Mind. PLoS Biol 1/3/2003: e77. Photo courtesy of Frans de Waal.