Young Children are Sensitive to their Learning Curve
Persistence is critical to academic achievement. Yet, there is not much known about how young children make decisions about when and how to persist. Therefore, we don't know how to help children persist through challenges when it matters most. Adult models of optimal learning indicate that adults are capable at monitoring their past performance over time and use this information to determine where to put their effort. However, it is unknown if children are capable of this too. Here, we explored whether 4-6-year-olds track their past performance over time and use this information to determine when to stick with a challenge. Across four experiments (N=360), we found that children are sensitive to the trajectory of their past performance over time and use this information to determine if they should stick with a challenge. Children are more likely to continue with a challenge when their performance increases over time rather than stays the same. Additionally, reward contingencies shift preferences. Children integrate their chances of getting a reward with the magnitude of that reward to calibrate their effort. With in-person testing, older children are more likely to stick with a challenge and are less optimistic about their performance than younger children regardless of their performance. However, these findings are not found in online testing. Furthermore, older children are more accurate at updating performance predictions than younger children across in-person and online contexts.