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Creators/Authors contains: "Nussenbaum, Kate"

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  1. Abstract

    Beliefs about the controllability of positive or negative events in the environment can shape learning throughout the lifespan. Previous research has shown that adults’ learning is modulated by beliefs about the causal structure of the environment such that they update their value estimates to a lesser extent when the outcomes can be attributed to hidden causes. This study examined whether external causes similarly influenced outcome attributions and learning across development. Ninety participants, ages 7 to 25 years, completed a reinforcement learning task in which they chose between two options with fixed reward probabilities. Choices were made in three distinct environments in which different hidden agents occasionally intervened to generate positive, negative, or random outcomes. Participants’ beliefs about hidden-agent intervention aligned with the true probabilities of the positive, negative, or random outcome manipulation in each of the three environments. Computational modeling of the learning data revealed that while the choices made by both adults (ages 18–25) and adolescents (ages 13–17) were best fit by Bayesian reinforcement learning models that incorporate beliefs about hidden-agent intervention, those of children (ages 7–12) were best fit by a one learning rate model that updates value estimates based on choice outcomes alone. Together, these results suggest that while children demonstrate explicit awareness of the causal structure of the task environment, they do not implicitly use beliefs about the causal structure of the environment to guide reinforcement learning in the same manner as adolescents and adults.

     
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  2. Abstract

    Intervening on causal systems can illuminate their underlying structures. Past work has shown that, relative to adults, young children often make intervention decisions that appear to confirm a single hypothesis rather than those that optimally discriminate alternative hypotheses. Here, we investigated how the ability to make informative causal interventions changes across development. Ninety participants between the ages of 7 and 25 completed 40 different puzzles in which they had to intervene on various causal systems to determine their underlying structures. Each puzzle comprised a three‐ or four‐node computer chip with hidden wires. On each trial, participants viewed two possible arrangements of the chip's hidden wires and had to select a single node to activate. After observing the outcome of their intervention, participants selected a wire configuration and rated their confidence in their selection. We characterized participant choices with a Bayesian measurement model that indexed the extent to which participants selected nodes that would best disambiguate the two possible causal structures versus those that had high causal centrality in one of the two causal hypotheses but did not necessarily discriminate between them. Our model estimates revealed that the use of a discriminatory strategy increased through early adolescence. Further, developmental improvements in intervention strategy were related to changes in the ability to accurately judge the strength of evidence that interventions revealed, as indexed by participants' confidence in their selections. Our results suggest that improvements in causal information‐seeking extend into adolescence and may be driven by metacognitive sensitivity to the efficacy of previous interventions in discriminating competing ideas.

     
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