Teens ignore advice, but only when they know better
A new study by UCL researchers has found that teenagers are more likely than younger children to ignore advice, but only when the advice is bad because adolescents are better at judging their own decisions. The researchers found that between the ages of nine and 12, young people improve their ability to make decisions independently by learning when they should or shouldn’t trust their own judgements.
The research team, led by Dr. Tobias Hauser, investigated children and teenagers’ metacognition and advice-taking behaviour using a computer game. In the ‘Space Explorer’ game, children and teenagers had to make simple decisions about whether there were more blue or orange aliens on a planet. Once they had decided, they were asked to rate how certain they were from ‘total guess’ to ‘totally certain’. They were then offered advice from a friendly ‘space advisor’, and could choose to stick with their original decision or change their mind. The participants were told that the advisor would be correct most of the time, but would sometimes make mistakes.
By comparing children (aged eight and nine) and teenagers (ages 12-13 and 16-17), the scientists showed that teenagers were better able to judge the quality of their own decisions (i.e. when they said they were totally certain, their judgements were generally correct). This metacognitive ability was less developed in children.
Whilst children took on more advice generally, they also listened to bad advice, making their final decisions worse. Teenagers used their newly-developed metacognitive skills to decide when to listen and when not to, as they were more likely to change their minds based on the advice if their initial judgement was incorrect. Consequently, the teenagers (both early and late adolescents) made better decisions than the children. Not only did they know better, the teenagers knew that they knew better.
As a next step, the researchers are interested in what happens if teenagers do not develop good metacognitive skills.