Age and Critical Thinking

Age and Critical Thinking

Lucas Jablonski, Staff Writer

During adolescence, the brain shifts dramatically in the way it processes questions.  Looking at interviews of 4 separate children between the ages of 5 and 14, there is a clear shift between the answers of the younger versus the answers of the older.  

Every kid was asked 6 questions: Who is the president of the United States right now? What Continent do we live on? Who is the most famous person in the world? What is one thing that will be different in the future? What is the biggest problem that our world is facing right now, and what is one way we can help make our world better?  The range of complexity of these questions was chosen to properly show the difference in spontaneous question answering between age groups. 

Beginning with the first and second questions, every person answered correctly.  It was not unexpected that each one would know the answer to these questions as they are common knowledge and taught in schools.  The answers began to differ at the third question: who’s the most famous person in the world?  The preschooler answered simply, “A billionaire.”  This is a short and concise answer. There was no explanation, just an answer.  The 8th grader, however, answered, “The ruler of China…because China’s a large country and everyone in that country recognizes their leader.” This is a more complex answer and has an explanation.  Unlike the pre-schooler, this answer was thought about more deeply. The Stanford Children’s Health department explains this difference in saying “Ages 12 to 18…do more complex thinking.”  

For the fourth question (What will the future be like?) the answers varied with each child, but many stayed towards the realm of technology and electronics. The 2nd grader’s answer was very different though, and it gives a good example of logical thinking. Their answer was, “I will be older.” This was said with a straight face and was not meant as a joke.  

The fifth and sixth questions were more complex and also had a variety of answers.  For the 5th answer, the 5th grader answered the obligatory answer “Covid-19 is the biggest problem.”  Because of their exposure to news and higher teaching than the younger children, their answer reflects what they hear every day.  The preschooler answered “A tornado-it can hit your house and you could die.” This answer was simple and off the top of their head. 

The answers given by four different children, in intervals of three grades, show the slight deviations in the way answers are thought about and produced.