Decision-making in children and teens

LABEL is extremely grateful to the students and their parents as well as the teachers of the schools we are partnering with. By allowing the children and teenagers to participate in our study, you make it possible to better understand how decision-making develops. Below, we would like to shortly describe the main research questions that we are addressing and to discuss our methodology.

Our research questions

How do children develop decision-making strategies?

Decision-making in children is poorly understood, mostly because adults have long taken for granted that children are not mature enough to make decisions. As society changes, it provides children and adolescents with the rights to make their own decisions and the tools to do so. Consequently, it is crucial to understand how children form their own opinions and what motivates them. By designing controlled experiments that mimic everyday decisions and by studying how children and adolescents make decisions in simple tasks, it is possible to uncover milestones in decision-making and identify the drivers of decisions (such as emotions or cognitive reasoning) at each age. 



How to better understand and help children with behavioral disorders?

There is evidence that behavioral disorders impact the quality of decision-making in adults, but also children and adolescents. For instance, attention deficit disorders are often associated with excessive risk-taking and impulsivity. However, little is known about the magnitudes of these effects. For instance, there is evidence that normally developing adolescents tend also to take excessive risks.  By comparing decision-making between normally developing children and children with behavioral disorders, it is possible to better understand what pertains to normal development and what pertains to disorders. Having a framework for understanding the decisions of normally developing children and children with health or behavioral disorders is also likely to have implications for policy around education, advertising, medicine and environments where children make decisions.

Understanding children to better understand adults

The way we develop as children largely impact our adult life. Decision-making by adults is far from perfect, notably in situations that involve risk, uncertainty or temporal delays. This results in poor individual decisions in many important domains such as health, saving, insurance or investment. Can we trace these decision-making flaws to adolescence and childhood and identify the reasons why people rarely learn to make good decisions in certain domains? Experimental procedures are useful to identify how, as children, we develop our ability to handle abstract concepts (such as probabilities, anticipation or backward reasoning) necessary to make everyday decisions as adults. 


How to better design our education system?

Educators constantly experiment with methods to make our children learn better. However, the large variety of philosophies regarding education suggests that a more careful and scientific assessment of methods and instruction contents is needed. More importantly, the main objective of education is to provide children and adolescents with tools that they will use in their everyday life as adults. Making sure that these tools are acquired and exported from the classroom environment to daily life is therefore critical. By probing decision-making tasks that rely on concepts taught in the classroom (such as probabilities, mathematics and logic), it is possible to assess whether children learn how to use those concepts to make better decisions.

Our methods

What are the regulations that apply to the research?

All research activities conducted by professors in a university are reviewed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) for consistency with good research practices and federal regulations. Our research protocol has been approved by the IRB at the University of Southern California. Our study does not involve any risk. If you are a parent at LILA, please check the IRB approved information documents here.


Why do children bring toys/gift cards home?


Experimental economists use real choices, not hypothetical choices. Hypothetical choices are known to deliver outcomes that are different from real choices. For instance, if we want to study how children choose between items, we do not ask them what they think they would choose, we instead ask them to choose between real items. Of course, the choice is relevant if children can take the chosen item home. We say that our choices are motivated.  Students in middle and high school receive a gift card instead of toys

Are you tricking or lying to students to manipulate their behavior?

No. Experimental economists do not deceive study participants. This means that they do not trick participants or lie to them. Experimental tasks are presented as games and rules are fully disclosed.

Fair coins are fair, random draws are random, rules are set once and for all. 

Are the choices of my child anonymous?

Yes. Our research satisfies an anonymity requirement. We do not collect information that could be linked to participants. When children come into the experimental room, they are seated at a computer station that allocates an ID number. This is the only information kept on file. All data is later stored in a secure location.

How is a study funded?

Scientific studies are funded by federal grants or private foundations. These fund the costs of the research, including the purchase of the items we give to participants and the equipment we need. 




Who makes sure the experiment is appropriate for children?

All experiments are reviewed by an IRB (Institutional Review Board) committee. The committee reviews all material and checks that the experiment does not involve risk for participants. The same general rules apply to every university.

All experiments we conduct use simple games that require simple choices. These can be administered to children from PreK to 12th grade. 


Our results

We encourage you to visit the dedicated page for parents to learn about our activities, including some results of the study