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Kids Notice Things Adults Completely Miss, New Research Says

Sometimes kids' "weakness" is actually a strength, according to recently published studies.

 Dad and toddler son pointing in the woods Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock 
We usually assume that, as adults, we know more and can handle far more advanced cognitive tasks than our kids, but new research shows that our L.O.s may actually have the upper hand in some ways.

Two new studies, just published in the journal Psychological Science, look at how both adults and kids pay attention to and retain information that's deemed important. The first study looked at 35 adults and 34 children. When it came to remembering information they were told to focus on and ignoring extraneous info, the adults excelled. However, the 4- to 5-year-olds paid attention to all of the information presented to them, even when they were told to just focus on one thing. The researchers conclude that because kids aren't as good as adults at focusing their attention, they actually end up noticing—and remembering!—more. In other words, children's "weakness" actually became their strength in this context. Very cool.

Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, explained why kids and adults differ in this way to "The ability to focus attention is what allows adults to sit in two-hour meetings and maintain long conversations, while ignoring distractions. But young children's use of distributed attention allows them to learn more in new and unfamiliar settings by taking in a lot of information."

Makes sense, and also serves as a reminder to parents and teachers that kids can't handle distractions as well as adults. "They are always taking in information, even if it is not what you're trying to teach them," explained Sloutsky. "We need to make sure that we are aware of that and design our classrooms, textbooks, and educational materials to help students succeed." 

Regardless of how educators and families choose to apply findings like this, it never hurts to know more about how our kids see the world and retain the information they're taking in. The more we understand their strengths and limitations, the more successful we'll all be!