New Research Finds That 3-Year-Old Toddlers Do Not Use Possibility Concepts Like ‘Might’ Or ‘Might Not’ When Making Decisions

Ekaterina Pokrovsky - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual child

From infancy to early adolescence, children experience rapid developmental progression. So much so that many parents realize how remarkable yet challenging their toddler’s growth is from age 2 to age 3.

Recently, cognitive psychologists from Harvard University sought to analyze this progression further– conducting a study that explored when young children develop an ability to take alternative possibilities into account during planning.

They first focused on one experiment in which there were two prizes. The first prize was placed inside a single container; meanwhile, the second prize was placed in one of two other containers.

So, the study participants– who were 3 years old– were able to pick from the first container, which definitely contained a prize, or from the pair, with each container having a 50% chance of holding a prize.

Interestingly, though, the toddlers still chose one of the paired containers about half of the time– even though one of them might have been empty. However, the “might” in this scenario is particularly important.

The researchers ultimately found that at 3 years old, children do not use possibility concepts such as “might.”

In turn, they are unable to represent the fact that one of the two paired containers might or might not hold a prize.

“Young children make surprisingly unwise decisions in the face of multiple possibilities,” the researchers noted.

In fact, 2-year-olds chose wisely about 50% of the time; meanwhile, 3-year-olds picked wisely about 60% of the time.

Ekaterina Pokrovsky – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual child

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