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Developmental Science - Early View Articles, Pages ${blockparams.parentJournalIssue.pageRange}

Being proven wrong elicits learning in children – but only in those with higher executive function skills

Abstract This study investigated whether prompting children to generate predictions about an outcome facilitates activation of prior knowledge and improves belief revision. 51 children aged 9–12 were tested on two experimental tasks in which generating a prediction was compared to closely matched control conditions, as well as on a test of executive functions (EF). In Experiment 1, we showed that children exhibited a pupillary surprise response to events that they had predicted incorrectly, hypothesized to reflect the transient release of noradrenaline in response to cognitive conflict. However, children's surprise response was not associated with better belief revision, in contrast to a previous study involving adults. Experiment 2 revealed that, while generating predictions helped children activate their prior knowledge, only those with better inhibitory control skills learned from incorrectly predicted outcomes. Together, these results suggest that good inhibitory control skills are needed for learning through cognitive conflict. Thus, generating predictions benefits learning – but only among children with sufficient EF capacities to harness surprise for revising their beliefs.

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