Children’s attention has been the subject of a lot of discussion in the last few decades, and its “deficits” the cause of much frustration, contention and, in many cases, medication. A new study from The Ohio State University finds that there’s at least one pretty logical reason for kids’ wandering attention: Compared to grownups, kids aren’t quite as good at paying attention to what they’re told to—but they’re better at paying attention to what they aren’t. This may mean that kids ultimately pick up more details about their environments than grownups do. And it may tell us something about how to think about education, classrooms and lessons, to make them more kid-attention-friendly.
The new study, published this month in Psychological Science, had 35 four- and five-year-old kids and as many adults look at two differently colored shapes on a computer screen. They were told to pay attention to just one of the two (say, a green shape vs. a blue one), and determine whether a green prompt in the next screen was the same shade they’d seen earlier.