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Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, J. Behav. Dec.

Making, 25: 414426 (2012)


Published online 10 August 2011 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/bdm.744

Assessment of Decisionmaking Competence in Preadolescence


JOSHUA A. WELLER1*, IRWIN P. LEVIN2, JASON P. ROSE3 and ELAINE BOSSARD2
1
Decision Research, Eugene, OR, USA
2
Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
3
Department of Psychology, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH, USA
ABSTRACT
Recent research using late adolescent (1819 years) and adult samples suggests that withinsubject performance on a variety of standard,
controlled laboratory tasks reects a higherorder positive manifold of decisionmaking competence. The present paper extends this
important work by testing whether preadolescent children (10 to 11yearolds, n = 101) exhibit a similar structural pattern characterizing
their decisionmaking performance. Performance on childfriendly versions of framing problems, decision matrices, consistency in risk
perceptions, and calibration of condence conformed to a onefactor solution, comparable with that previously found with older
populations. Further, individual differences in effortful control, a temperament dimension related to selfregulative executive function, was
signicantly associated with decisionmaking competence. Importantly, these measures were predictive of both positive (e.g., completing
set goals) and negative behaviors (e.g., missing homework assignments). Results are discussed in terms of the existence of early stable
patterns of decision making and rationality and the emergence of systematic individual difference factors in decision making. Copyright
2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
key words

individual differences; decisionmaking competence; preadolescence; inhibitory control; framing

Recent research using late adolescent (1819 years) and


adult samples suggests that withinsubject performance
on a variety of standard, controlled laboratory tasks reects a higherorder decisionmaking competence (DMC), a
competency that is separable from general intelligence
(Bruine de Bruin, Parker, & Fischhoff, 2007; Parker &
Fischhoff, 2005). In this paper, we extend the study of DMC
from late adolescence and adulthood to children as young as
10 years old. We feel that understanding how children in this
age group make decisions can offer insights into the
development of rational thought and may also have the
potential to ultimately lead to educational efforts to teach
children how to make better decisions at earlier ages.

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN DECISION MAKING


During the past decade, there has been increasing interest in
extending research beyond aggregatelevel effects in behavioral decision making by adopting an approach focusing on
individual differences in rational thought (e.g., Stanovich,
1999; Stanovich & West, 1998a, 1998b). Some studies have
focused on antecedent variables that may predict rational
decision behavior. For instance, LeBoeuf and Shar (2003)
found that a high need for cognition (Cacioppo & Petty,
1982), a construct associated with the propensity to engage
in systematic thought, was associated with reduced framing
effects in a withinsubject design. Moreover, Levin, Gaeth,
Schreiber, and Lauriola (2002) found that individual differences in personality predicted the magnitude of framing
* Correspondence to: Joshua Weller, Decision Research, 1201 Oak Street,
Suite 200, Eugene, OR 97401, USA. Email: jweller@decisionresearch.org

Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

effects. Other studies have addressed the phenotypic structure


of rational decision making (e.g., Bruine de Bruin et al.,
2007; Finucane & Gullion, 2010; Parker & Fischhoff, 2005;
Stanovich & West, 1998b). These studies have provided
evidence that performance across numerous decisionmaking
tasks, as indexed by either accuracy of response (i.e., correspondence) or consistency of responses (i.e., coherence),
reects systematic, internally consistent individual differences in decision behavior and rational thought. With a
sample of late adolescent men (18 and 19yearolds), Parker
and Fischhoff (2005) rst operationalized DMC as performance on a battery of classic decisionmaking tasks
(e.g., framing effects, sunkcost effects, under/overcondence).
The development of this construct has been based on the
premise that decision making involving both normatively
correct judgments for decision problems (e.g., applying
decision rules) and making consistent judgments (e.g.,
making consistent judgments across differently valenced
frames) is dependent on a more general underlying cognitive
competence. Parker and Fischhoff found that DMC scores,
after controlling for general mental ability (i.e., vocabulary
scale of the WISCR and a battery of executive cognitive
function; Giancola, Mezzich, & Tarter, 1998; Wechsler,
1972), predicted risk behaviors such as substance abuse,
delinquency, and number of sexual partners. A followup
study with adults (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2007) produced
similar results. In addition to rening the component DMC
measures used in Parker and Fischhoffs DMC assessment,
they showed that DMC was correlated with selfreported
realworld outcomes such as ling for bankruptcy or being
diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Importantly, such ndings
attest to the value of laboratorycontrolled measures of
decision making in predicting important behaviors.

J. A. Weller et al.

Decisionmaking Competence in Preadolescence

415

DECISIONMAKING COMPETENCE IN CHILDREN

EFFORTFUL CONTROL AND DECISION MAKING

Although the majority of studies of decision making have


used adult or late adolescent/emerging adult (mainly
college student) samples, a growing literature has begun
to characterize decision making in children. For
instance, studies by Reyna and Ellis (1994), Schlottmann
and Anderson (1994), and Levin and Hart (2003) support
the notion that children as young as 5 years old can utilize
and integrate probability and outcome information in risky
decisionmaking judgments. For example, Schlottmann and
Anderson (1994) showed that children as young as age ve
considered both the probability and size of a prize (i.e.,
outcome magnitude) to judge the desirability of various
gambles. Harbaugh, Krause, and Vesterlund (2002) extended these ndings for a judgment task to choices
between simple gambles. Recently, van Leijenhorst,
Westenberg, and Crone (2008) found that children as
young as 8 years old showed no differences compared with
adults in probability estimation abilities on a risky decision
making task. These ndings suggest that children have at
least an implicit understanding of probability and can, to a
certain extent, utilize this information when making
judgments.
However, there is also evidence that young children
show differences in decision making relative to older
children and adults. For example, Levin, Weller, Pederson,
and Harshman (2007) found that younger children (ages 5
7 years), compared with their parents, were less able to
utilize probability information when faced with decisions
involving uncertain outcomes; children between 8 and
10 years old were intermediate between younger children
and adults. Moreover, Weller, Levin, and Denburg (2010)
showed that sensitivity to the relative expected values (EV)
between choice options increased from early childhood
(57 years) to later childhood (811 years) and into adulthood. In this case, EV sensitivity can be seen as a
performance index because greater EV sensitivity, by
denition, leads to making choices that are advantageous in
the long run. Similarly, in a study of children 1013 years
old, younger children performed worse on inductive,
deductive, and probabilistic reasoning tasks than older
children (Kokis, Macpherson, Toplak, West, & Stanovich,
2002). Finally, in a study of base rate neglect, Jacobs and
Potenza (1991) found that the use of base rate information
increased as a function of age in a sample of 712 yearolds
(see Jacobs & Klaczynski, 2005 for further examples).
Overall, this body of research reinforces the existence of
mean agerelated differences in rational thought which
parallels maturation from preadolescence to adolescence
and adulthood. However, to our knowledge, no study has
comprehensively investigated how performance on DMC
related tasks is interrelated during preadolescence. In the
current study, we examine whether the positive manifold of
DMC abilities observed with 18 to 19yearolds and adult
samples is also observed with a sample of 10 to 11yearold
children. Comparing similarities and differences between the
current study and past assessments can provide insights into
the development of rational decision making.

Whereas previous investigations of DMC primarily focused


on the cognitive correlates of DMC, such as general mental
ability, the current study also examined the degree to
which individual differences in temperament were associated with DMC in preadolescents. Research and theory
have suggested a neuropsychological basis for different
patterns of decision making for children and adults. In
contrast to adults, childrens selfregulatory systems are
still developing. Consequently, their capacity for multiple
forms of selfregulation, including regulating emotion,
inhibiting and delaying behavioral acts, planning, suppressing a predominant response and performing a subdominant response, and other forms of conscious and
active regulation is often poorer in comparison (e.g.,
Casey, Giedd, & Thomas, 2000; Rothbart & Bates, 2006;
Steinberg, 2007).
Although there are meanlevel changes in selfregulation
from childhood to adulthood, there also exist considerable
individual differences across age groups. Researchers characterize behavioral manifestations of such control systems
as reecting a broad temperament dimension, referred to
as effortful control (Rothbart, Ahadi, & Evans, 2000;
Rothbart & Bates, 2006). This dimension is believed to
reect individual differences in the maturity of the anterior
attentional network, which is presumed to involve a neural
system that includes areas of the midprefrontal cortex that
are at the core of the capacity to effectively regulate behavior
and monitor conicts among competing stimuli (Posner &
Rothbart, 1998; Rothbart, Derryberry, & Posner, 1994).
Individual differences in effortful control, which can be
observed as early as the end of the rst year of life (Murray &
Kochanska, 2002; Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994), reect behavioral dispositions in cognitive and emotional selfregulation
(e.g., Kochanska, Barry, Jimenez, Hollatz, & Woodard, 2009;
Kochanska, Murray, & Harlan, 2000; Kochanska, Murray,
Jacques, & Koenig, 1996). Effortful control encompasses
such capacities as delaying action, slowing down, lowering
voice, suppressing/initiating response to a signal, and the
effortful shifting of attention. Although sometimes found to
be modestly correlated, the effortful control dimension can
be distinguished from another temperament dimension,
surgency/extraversion, which encompasses sensation seeking
and impulsivity (e.g., speed of response) and is theorized to be
focused on activation and approach behaviors (Rothbart &
Bates, 2006).
By 7 years of age, this effortful, selfregulative attentional
system is believed to be represented by a latent factor
characterized by individual differences across three different
aspects of selfregulatory capacity: activation control, attention focusing, and inhibitory control (Ahadi, Rothbart, & Ye,
1993). Activation control refers to the capacity to perform an
action when there is a strong tendency to avoid it, such
as sitting down to do homework when the child would
rather play a game. Attention focusing refers to cognitive
and attentional control and the ability to shift attention
when appropriate. The third component of the effortful
control dimension, inhibitory control, reects the ability to

Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)


DOI: 10.1002/bdm

416

Journal of Behavioral Decision Making

plan, suppress incorrect or inappropriate prepotent responses, and regulate emotionrelated behaviors (Eisenberg
et al., 1996).
Developmental research has linked individual differences
in effortful control to poor reallife decision making. For
instance, effortful control and related traits have been
associated with academic performance and school readiness,
emotional regulation, social competence and moral behavior,
as well as both internalizing (e.g., social withdrawal) and
externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression, delinquency; Blair,
2002; Eisenberg, Smith, Sadovsky, & Spinrad, 2004;
Kochanska et al., 1996; Lengua, 2003; MacDonald, 2008;
Olson, Sameroff, Kerr, Lopez, & Wellman, 2005; Romer,
2010; Rothbart & Ahadi, 1994; Tangeney, Baumeister, &
Boone, 2004; Valiente, LemeryChalfant, & Castro, 2007).
Moreover, the effortful control temperament dimension is
believed to be a precursor to behavioral disinhibition (versus
constraint), (low) agreeableness, and (low) conscientiousness
in adulthood (e.g., Dindo, McDadeMontez, Sharma, Watson,
& Clark, 2009; JensenCampbell et al., 2002; Rothbart, 2007),
traits that have been associated with greater incidence of
promiscuous sexual behavior, antisocial tendencies, and
substance abuse (e.g., Frick, Kuper, Silverthorn, & Cotter,
1995; McGue, Slutske, Taylor, & Iacono, 1997; Miller &
Lynam, 2003). Given the strong association between effortful
control and reallife consequences linked to maladaptive
decision making, we predicted that greater effortful control
would be associated with stronger performance on our DMC
measures.

AIMS AND HYPOTHESES OF THE PRESENT STUDY


The primary aims of the current study were to develop a
child friendly version of Parker and Fischhoffs (2005)
Youth Decision Making Competence (YDMC) and Bruine
de Bruin et al.s (2007) Adult DecisionMaking Competence
Measure (ADMC) and to assess the psychometric properties
of this modied measure in a preadolescent sample.
Consistent with prior research, we predicted that a single
factor model of DMC also would be identied in a
preadolescent sample with signicant positive correlations
between the various DMC measures.
We also tested the association between early adolescent
temperament and DMC. Given the links between effortful
control and reallife maladaptive decision making in
adolescence, we hypothesized that greater reported effortful
control would predict greater DMC performance. Specically, the inhibitory control facet of the effortful control
dimensionan individuals ability to control his or her
actionswas expected to be especially predictive of DMC
performance.
Finally, we tested whether our new measure of DMC
would be able to predict important behavioral outcomes.
We focused on schoolrelated behaviors (e.g., handing in
homework on time going to the principals ofce). At this
age, school is one of the most important benchmarks for
demonstrating developmental progress and highlighting
adaptive and responsible decision making. Overall, we
Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

expected that greater DMC performance would be associated


with better schoolrelated behaviors.

METHOD
Participants
Participants were 110 children ranging between 10 and
11 years of age (median = 10.58 years). Nine children were
removed because they either did not complete the second
half of the study or they had not completed sections of the
survey. For this study, parents (n = 108; two adults were
parents of two children) completed temperament ratings of
their child and other tasks unrelated to the current study.
Data for the parents of the nine children who were dropped
were also deleted.

Materials
The current battery used to determine preadolescent
decisionmaking competence (PADMC) involved components taken from Parker and Fischhoffs (2005) and Bruine
de Bruin et al.s (2007) use of classic decision problems in
their young adult (YDMC) and adult DMC (ADMC)
measures. These components included Resistance to
Framing, Under/Overcondence, Applying Decision Rules,
Consistency in Risk Perception, and Resistance to Sunk
Costs; each of which has been shown to be predictive of
realworld decisions and behaviors of younger and older
adults. We chose to omit two measures used in the YDMC
and the ADMC, Recognizing Social Norms and Path
Independence. We decided to omit Path Independence
because of the poor external validity previously demonstrated in other studies. We chose to omit the Recognizing Social
Norms scale because we wanted to focus on measures that
were more closely related to classic judgment and decision
making (JDM) paradigms. Further, including only the ve
chosen measures helped allay concerns regarding participant
fatigue. These measures were converted for use with
preadolescents by substituting topics familiar and germane
to children such as choosing between teaching methods,
evaluating videogame systems, and answering simple
geographic questions. Pretesting was conducted to determine
whether reading level and basic comprehension of the tasks
at hand adequately matched the comprehension abilities of
the sample. Items of questionable reading level were
subsequently modied. Further, the participants completed
practice items for the Applying Decision Rules, Consistency
in Risk Perception, and Under/Overcondence scales. Items
that did not add to the internal consistency of the
corresponding component scale were removed from subsequent analyses. The revised components included in the
current battery are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs
(see Appendix A for sample items).1

Interested readers should contact the authors for any of the materials
developed for use in the current study.

J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)


DOI: 10.1002/bdm

J. A. Weller et al.
Resistance to framing
This measure represents the extent to which the same
objective decision scenario evokes the same response,
regardless of the valence of the frame. This measure
consisted of six framing problems. Consistent with the
categories proposed by Levin, Schneider, and Gaeth
(1998), three of these problems involved risky choice
framing (e.g., choosing between two options differing in
riskiness for dealing with the threat to an endangered
species, where the potential outcomes are framed either
positively in terms of animals saved or negatively in
terms of animals lost) and three items involved attribute
framing (e.g., rating the effectiveness of a cold remedy
described alternatively as curing 75% of the people taking
it or not curing 25% of the people). Following Levin
et al. (2002), each participant received both positive and
negative versions of each framing scenario, with one
version received in a rst session and the other received in
a second session at least 1 week later. The participants rated
their degree of preference for the risky or riskless option in
the risky choiceframing problem so that numerical scores
on a sixpoint scale (1 = denitely choose option A,
6 = denitely choose option B) were comparable for all
framing problems. Performance was determined by the
mean absolute difference in response to the two versions of
the same problem, with no mean absolute difference
indicating complete resistance to framing. We reversed
the sign so that large framing effects were denoted by high
negative scores.

Under/overcondence
This task measures how accurately the participants assess the
extent of their own knowledge. The participants answered
a series of 18 true/false general knowledge questions and
then rated their condence from 50% (just guessing) to 100%
(absolutely sure). Questions included items such as Alaska
was the last state to become part of the U.S. Under/
Overcondence, as a measure of DMC, was operationalized
as one minus the absolute difference between mean condence and percentage correct across items so that higher
scores reect better performance.

Applying decision rules


The participants were asked to answer six different questions
concerning choices between video game systems, in which
each of the systems was described by low to high ratings on
ve key attributes. Questions varied in complexity and
involved either the choice between two systems differing on
only one or two of the attributes (e.g., Jackie wants the
videogame system that is easiest to use) or the choice
between three systems based on more than two attributes (e.
g., Jane wants a videogame system that is better than
medium for sound quality and game selection and better than
low for everything else). Each question had one correct
answer that followed from an accurate reading of the option
byattribute matrix. The number of correct responses was
taken as a measure of DMC.
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2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Decisionmaking Competence in Preadolescence

417

Consistency in risk perception


This task determines the extent to which the participants can
follow probability rules. The participants answered 14
questions regarding the chance of an event happening to
them, ranging from 0% (no chance) to 100% (certain
chance). Seven events (e.g., What is the probability that you
will go to the principal or have your parents called because
of bad behavior at school?) were presented to be judged on
the chance they would occur in the next month, and these
same events were presented for the second time in a later
part of the survey to be judged on the chance they would
occur in the next two years. Correct responses were indicated
by the probability of an event occurring in the next month
being no larger than the probability of the same event
occurring in the next two years, with the number of correct
responses used as a measure of DMC.

Resisting sunk costs


This task measures the extent to which a previous course of
action is abandoned in favor of a superior option. Four
questions were answered on a sixpoint scale (1 = most likely
to choose the sunk cost option, 6 = most likely to choose the
normatively correct option). A high rating indicates resistance
to sunkcost effects. In order to make the hypothetical
scenarios more meaningful to this age group and the potential
costs/consequences more realistic, the focus was placed on
time/effort rather than on nancial sunk costs, such as rating
the likelihood of nishing a Halloween costume that one has
invested a signicant amount of time in, after nding another
costume that would look better.

Effortful control
The participants and their parents completed the selfreport
version of the Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire
Revised (EATQR; Ellis & Rothbart, 2001), which is a
revision of Capaldi and Rothbarts (1992) original EATQ,
designed to assess individual differences in temperament
for children between the ages of 9 and 15 years. Parents
completed a parallel caregiver version in which they were
asked to reect on the childs behaviors and dispositions.
The current study utilized three of these temperament
subscales that comprise the broader effortful control
dimension: activation control (I have a hard time nishing
things on time), attention focusing (I pay close attention
when someone tells me how to do something), and
inhibitory control (When someone tells me to stop doing
something, it is easy for me to stop) for a total of 16 items.
Both the participants and their parents rated these questions
on a scale from 1 (almost always untrue of you/your child) to
5 (almost always true of you/your child). Cronbachs alpha for
these scales ranged from 0.52 to 0.80, largely consistent with
prior research (Ellis & Rothbart, 2001; Muris & Meesters,
2009). The superordinate factor of effortful control was
derived by creating a composite score using these subscales.
Parental ratings of the child and childs selfratings on the
temperament scales were signicantly correlated, ranging
from r = 0.27 to 0.40, p < 0.001 (correlations ranged from 0.41
J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/bdm

418

Journal of Behavioral Decision Making

to 0.51 when corrected for attenuation). These agreement


correlations are comparable with, and in some cases higher
than, those previously reported (Ellis & Rothbart, 2001; Muris
& Meesters, 2009). We standardized both sets of ratings and
then created a mean composite for each of the four scales of
interest.

Schoolrelated behaviors
As part of a larger project, each child was asked to self
report the frequency of four commonly occurring behaviors
in school (e.g., received the top grade in class, been called to
the principals ofce because of bad behavior) over the past
month. All frequency ratings for the behaviors were made on
a fourpoint scale (1 = zero times; 2 = one time; 3 = two to ve
times; 4 = six or more times).2

Procedure
Two sessions, separated by approximately 7 and 14 days,
were administered to each childparent pair. Each pair was
paid $30 for completing both sessions. The parent and the
child were in different rooms during each session, and each
was assured that their responses would be kept condential,
including keeping them from their child/parent. Parental
participation included material for a separate study, but,
crucially, parents supplied ratings of child temperament to
complement childrens selfratings. Each session took
between about 45 and 60 min to complete, and all parents
agreed to be contacted at a future date for a followup
(longitudinal) study.

RESULTS
Descriptive statistics
Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics for each of the
PADMC component measures. Each component measure
yielded comparable internal reliability to that of the YDMC
and the ADMC. Compared with the YDMC, the alpha
coefcients were better for Resisting Sunk Costs and
Resistance to Framing and similar to Consistency in Risk
Perception and Under/Overcondence. Similarly, compared
with the ADMC, although the reported alphas were
generally lower, the average mean interitem correlations
for the PADMC measures were consistent with those
observed for the ADMC component measures, r = 0.15 to
0.24 versus r = 0.09 to 0.25, respectively.3 Hence, compared
with the ADMC, the lower level of coefcient alpha

Note that we initially included a wider range of behaviors in the study, such
as items related to health and safety (e.g., smoking cigarettes, wearing seat
belts). However, many of these behaviors had extremely low or no variance.
Thus, we focus here on the behaviors from domains that held some degree
of variability and that we believed were most theoretically related to DMC
in our preadolescent sample (i.e., schoolrelated behaviors).
3
Because the mean interitem correlations were not reported in Bruine de
Bruin et al. (2007), we estimated these correlations by using Cronbachs
alpha formula, which states that alpha is a function of both the number of
items and the mean interitem correlation.

Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

observed was likely a product of the number of items rather


than a lack of association between the scale items.

Intercorrelations between component measures


As seen in Table 2, the ve component PADMC measures
generally showed signicant intercorrelations with one
another. These ndings suggest that performance on these
measures reect an underlying latent DMC variable and are
largely consistent with the pattern of correlations observed in
adolescent and adult samples (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2007;
Parker & Fischhoff, 2005). Similar to the analyses of both
Parker and Fischhoff and Bruine de Bruin et al., Resistance
to Sunk Costs was not signicantly associated with the
Resistance to Framing or Under/Overcondence measures.
Somewhat unexpectedly, though, we found that Resisting
Sunk Costs was actually associated with poorer performance
on the Applying Decision Rules and Consistency in Risk
Perception measures. This nding diverges from those of
Parker and Fischhoff (2005), who reported nonsignicant
correlations in adolescents, and Bruine de Bruin et al.
(2007), who reported positive correlations. We discuss these
ndings in greater detail in a later section.

Conrmatory factor analysis


Both Parker and Fischhoff (2005) and Bruine de Bruin et al.
(2007) characterized DMC as a onefactor unipolar construct
(i.e., positively interrelated skills). However, both of these
prior assessments included exploratory factor analyses that
may indicate that the structure of DMC is multidimensional.
In particular, the Resisting Sunk Costs scale loaded on a
second factor apart from the Resistance to Framing,
Applying Decision Rules, and Under/Overcondence scales.
In fact, both prior DMC assessments found that Resisting
Sunk Costs loaded only modestly on a onefactor DMC
solution (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2007; Parker & Fischhoff,
2005). Further, these aforementioned studies reported that
performance on the Resisting Sunk Costs scale was
relatively uncorrelated with indices of executive cognitive
functioning, whereas the other four DMC components that
we assessed, in general, showed consistent moderate
correlations with executive cognitive functioning. These
ndings indicate that the mechanisms that drive performance
on the Resisting Sunk Costs dimension may be different
from those required for successful performance on the other,
more cognitively laden DMC scales.
In light of these ndings, we tested two alternative one
factor models pertaining to the structure of DMC in
preadolescence. Using conrmatory factor analysis (CFA),
we tested whether a onefactor DMC solution including
all ve indicators (Applying Decision Rules, Under/
Overcondence, Consistency in Risk Perception, Resistance
to Framing, and Resistance to Sunk Costs) or a fourindicator
onefactor solution (with Resistance to Sunk Costs removed)
best t our data. Consistent with prior results, we expected
that the fourindicator model would best t our data. To test
these models, we used the robust maximum likelihood
estimation method using Mplus 5.1 (Muthn & Muthn,
J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)
DOI: 10.1002/bdm

J. A. Weller et al.

Decisionmaking Competence in Preadolescence

419

Table 1. Descriptive statistics for decisionmaking competencecomponent scales


Variable name
Applying Decision Rules
Resistance to Framing
Consistency in Risk Perception
Under/Overcondence
Sunk Costs

# items

Minimum

Maximum

Median

Mean

Standard deviation

6
6
6
18
3

0.00
3.33
2.00
0.54
4.00

6.00
0.00
6.00
1.00
18.00

4.00
1.33
6.00
0.86
9.00

4.20
1.35
5.42
0.85
9.72

1.26
0.67
0.95
0.11
3.17

0.50
0.41
0.53
0.79
0.25

Table 2. Intercorrelations between decisionmaking competence


component measures
Measure

1. Applying Decision Rules

2. Resistance to Framing
0.30**

3. Consistency in Risk
0.28** 0.28**

Perception
4. Under/Overcondence
0.26** 0.24** 0.25*

5. Resisting Sunk Cost


0.28** 0.02 0.26** 0.02

with the factor loadings (Grice, 2001). For this fourindicator


solution, we found that the factor determinacy coefcient
indicated reasonably good precision of measurement of the
factor score for the structural model, = 0.79. In sum, the
CFA analyses provide evidence that the shared variance
between the four component measures can be explained by a
unidimensional latent variable, replicating the primary factor
DMC recovered with the ADMC (Bruine de Bruin et al.,
2007).

*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01.

Table 3. Standardized loadings for the fourindicator and ve


indicator onefactor CFA models of decisionmaking competence
Variable name

Fiveindicator
model (SE)

Applying Decision Rules


Resistance to Framing
Consistency in Risk Perception
Under/Overcondence
Resistance to Sunk Costs

0.60
0.47
0.55
0.43
0.32

(0.13)
(0.13)
(0.10)
(0.11)
(0.15)

Fourindicator
model (SE)
0.55 (0.14)
0.53 (0.13)
0.52 (0.11)
0.47 (0.11)

Note. Loadings p < 0.001, except for Resistance to Sunk Costs in the ve
indicator model ( p = 0.034).
SE, standard error.

Los Angeles, CA) software. Path parameters were freely


estimated. Table 3 shows the standardized path estimates
and standard errors for the indicator variables. The ve
indicator model yielded reasonable t indices, 2 (5) = 7.16,
p = 0.20; CFI = 0.93, RMSEA = 0.065, SRMR = 0.05,
BIC = 1154.72. However, because the Resisting Sunk Costs
measure was negatively correlated with both the Consistency
in Risk Perception and Applying Decision Rules, such a
model cannot be interpreted as adhering to the positive
manifold hypothesis (Table 2). From a practical standpoint,
even though t statistics were acceptable, the model would
imply that economically irrational decision making (i.e.,
honoring sunk costs) was associated with better decision
making in other domains; such an assertion would clearly run
counter to the aim of establishing a measure representing
positively related decisionmaking abilities. When we
removed the Resisting Sunk Costs scale, we found that our
data more strongly t the fourindicator model, 2 (2) = 0.04,
p = 0.91; CFI = 1.00, RMSEA = 0.00, SRMR = 0.003,
BIC = 629.42. As another measure to assess the acceptability
of our fourindicator model, we calculated a factor determinacy coefcient that measures the correlation between
estimated and observed factor scores. A lowfactor determinacy coefcient would indicate that two orthogonal sets of
factor scores could be created that are both equally consistent
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2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Associations between temperament and


decisionmaking competence
We predicted that greater effortful control would be
associated with higher DMC. We correlated DMC (using
the factor score) and its component measures with the
superordinate effortful control dimension and the three
effortful control facetlevel scales.4 Table 4 displays these
results. As predicted, the superordinate factor of effortful
control was signicantly associated with DMC. Indeed,
greater effortful control was signicantly associated with
better performance on Resistance to Framing, Consistency in
Risk Perception, Applying Decision Rules, and marginally
with Under/Overcondence. Effortful control was not
signicantly associated with Resisting Sunk Costs. With
respect to the effortful control subscales, we expected the
inhibitory control subscale to be more strongly associated
with DMC than attention focusing and activation control. On
average, activation control, the tendency to perform an
action when there is a strong tendency to avoid it, was not
signicantly associated with DMC or any of the component
measures with the exception of a modest correlation with
Consistency in Risk Perception. Although attention focusing, the ability to shift attention when appropriate, was
modestly correlated with the overall DMC scale, the
correlations between effortful control and DMC appeared
to be largely driven by inhibitory control (i.e., the tendency
to plan and inhibit/suppress inappropriate prepotent responses). Specically, greater inhibitory control was significantly associated with greater DMC and all the component

We conducted parallel analyses with the other EATQR scales that were
assessed as part of a larger project (fear, frustration, perceptual sensitivity,
shyness, and surgency). We did not nd any systematic associations
between the DMC measures and any of these EATQR scales.
Additionally, we investigated the correlations between DMC scales and
the parent and child ratings separately (as opposed to the aggregate
measure). We did not observe any evidence for systematic differences
between the parent and child selfratings on the effortful control dimension
that would change the interpretation of our results. Thus, we do not discuss
this issue further.

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420

Journal of Behavioral Decision Making

Table 4. Correlations between Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire effortful control and decisionmaking competence
EATQ scale
Effortful control
Attention focusing
Activation control
Inhibitory control

DMC

Applying Decision
Rules

Resistance to
Framing

Consistency in Risk
Perception

Under/Overconfidence

Resistance to
Sunk Costs

0.28**
0.16+
0.09
0.38***

0.18*
0.03
0.03
0.26**

0.25**
0.12
0.05
0.33***

0.18*
0.11
0.13+
0.26**

0.14+
0.19*
0.03
0.17*

0.00
0.04
0.02
0.16*

Note: +p < 0.10, *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001, one tailed.
EATQ, Early Adolescent Temperament Questionnaire; DMC, decisionmaking competence.

measures. Notably, we found that greater inhibitory control


was associated with honoring sunk costs (i.e., negative
correlation). This nding may shed light on why the
Resisting Sunk Costs scale was inversely associated with
DMC (see the Discussion section for elaboration).

Associations between decisionmaking competence and


schoolrelated behaviors
We predicted that DMC would correspond to realworld
outcomes in preadolescents, observed with older age groups.
To test this hypothesis, we conducted a series of ordinal
regression analyses, regressing selfreported behaviors (e.g.,
Completing a difcult task you set for yourself) on DMC
and effortful control. Effortful control was included because
of its links to both academic and social behaviors, as well as
the observed correlations with the DMC measures. Thus, a
nding that DMC would account for variance beyond that
accounted for by effortful control would reinforce the
predictive validity of this construct. The reference categories
for these analyses were the responses indicating the most
frequent instances of behaviors. For the behavior, Being called
to the principals ofce because of bad behavior, we
conducted a logistic regression because of small base rates
(n = 9 who had been called to the principals ofce for bad
behavior at least once). Table 5 shows the results of these
analyses. As expected, effortful control signicantly accounted
for variance in these behaviors. Specically, lower effortful
control was associated with more negative behaviors, whereas
higher effortful control was associated with more positive
behaviors. Nevertheless, holding effortful control constant, we
found that DMC signicantly predicted the frequency of
engaging in each of the positive and negative behaviors.

DISCUSSION
This study extends earlier work on childrens reasoning in
several ways. First, standard measures used to dene DMC
in 18 to 19yearolds and adults can be modied and
reliably applied to children as young as 10 years old to assess
systematic differences in behavioral decision making.
Moreover, the underlying structure of preadolescents
responses to the various JDM measures was comparable
with what previous research had found in adolescents and
adults (Bruine de Bruin et al., 2007; Parker & Fischhoff,
2005). Second, we found evidence that individual differences in effortful control, a temperament dimension
associated with selfregulative processes, were associated
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2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

with DMC performance. Third, by nding that DMC


predicted realworld behaviors, we provide, in this study,
preliminary evidence for the predictive validity of DMC in
preadolescence.

Connections to extant theories and research


The current ndings can be evaluated in the context of extant
research on rationality and competence in decision making.
These results can also be positioned alongside other research
demonstrating that decision making and rational thought are
characterized by stable and predictable patterns, as opposed
to random variation (Stanovich & West, 2008; see also
Klaczynski, 2001). For instance, Stanovich and West (1997,
1998a, 1998b, 2000) suggest that there is considerable
systematic variability in performance across numerous JDM
tasks in the heuristics and biases literature. Recently,
Stanovich and West (2008) developed a theoretical framework suggesting that cognitive ability moderates JDM
biases, particularly for moderately difcult tasks that involve
sustained decoupling of System 1 and System 2 processes
(i.e., simultaneous inhibition of heuristic responses and
simulation of alternative responses). Like Stanovich and
West (2008), our approach also emphasizes that there is
systematic variability in responses to JDM tasks and further
establishes that this variability can be captured in preadolescent sample. Moreover, many of the decision tasks that
Stanovich and West identied as having correspondence
with cognitive ability were also the ones used in the
current research (p. 686). Although our results cannot
directly test the general mental abilityDMC link in
preadolescence, past research has indicated that DMC
performance is positively associated with indices of both
uid and crystalized general mental ability (Parker &
Fischhoff, 2005).
In addition, our results suggest that effortful control
processes are associated with performance on classic
behavioral decisionmaking tasks. A wide array of research
has suggested that traits related to effortful control, measured
at an early age, is predictive of maladaptive behaviors later
in life (Caspi & Silva, 1995; Wills, Ainette, Mendoza,
Gibbons, & Brody, 2007; Wills, Ainette, Stoolmiller,
Gibbons, & Shinar, 2008). To our knowledge, this paper
represents the most comprehensive analysis of the associations between decisionmaking tasks and indices of early
adolescent temperament. Also, we feel that these ndings
support research suggesting that effortful control is associated with academic outcomes and school readiness (e.g.,
Blair, 2002; Valiente, LemeryChalfant, Swanson, & Reiser,
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Decisionmaking Competence in Preadolescence

421

Table 5. Ordinal regression analyses predicting schoolrelated behaviors


95% CI

Completing a difcult task you set for yourself


DMC
Effortful control
Missed a homework assignment or turned one
in too late to get credit
DMC
Effortful control
Received top grade in class
DMC
Effortful control
Called to principals ofce because of bad behavior
DMC
Effortful control

SE

Lower

Upper

0.53**
1.11**

0.26
0.48

0.09
0.16

1.04
2.10

R2
0.13
0.23

0.63**
1.99***

0.29
0.58

1.19
3.12

0.07
0.85

0.37**
0.29

0.19
0.33

0.01
0.93

0.74
0.35

1.20***
1.53+

0.39
1.00

0.06
0.27

Note. A logistic regression was conducted for the behavior item, Called to principals ofce because of bad behavior. Odds ratios = 0.30 and 0.22 for DMC
and effortful control, respectively. R2 value denotes Nagelkerke pseudoR2 estimate.
+
p < 0.10, *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001, one tailed.

2008). Our results suggest further that effortful control is


associated with making more normative decisions, a skill
that may not be adequately captured by traditional intelligence tests (Stanovich, 2009). Although these results are
preliminary, one potential implication of these ndings is
that curricula designed to improve selfregulation skills may
enhance rational decision making at earlier ages.

The association between sunkcosts effects and


decisionmaking competence
Although our research strongly converged with prior research using the ADMC and YDMC inventories, we
observed a divergent pattern of results regarding sunkcost
effects. In preadolescents, honoring sunk costs was positively correlated with the DMC composite measure. In
contrast, Bruine de Bruin et al. (2007) reported a positive
correlation between Resisting Sunk Costs and DMC,
particularly the Applying Decision Rules and Consistency
in Risk Perception components. Moreover, both of these
studies diverge from Parker and Fischhoff (2005), who
reported no signicant correlations between Resisting Sunk
Costs and any of the DMC measures used in the current
study.
Clearly, future research is required to understand the
mechanisms that may underlie the apparent change in
directionality of the association between Resisting Sunk
Costs and the other DMC scales from preadolescence
observed in this study (also see Morsanyi & Handley, 2008
and Weir, 1964 for similar results) to adulthood (Bruine de
Bruin et al., 2007). We speculate that selfregulative processes
may be one such mechanism. Although selfregulative
processes can help an individual to decontextualize a problem,
these processes may also lead to perseverance beyond what is
required from a normative perspective. This interpretation is
consistent both with our results associating greater inhibitory
control with greater instances of honoring sunk costs, as well
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2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

as with research suggesting agerelated differences in


metacognitive competence, which includes the ability to
evaluate the appropriateness of activated heuristics and goals
(Klaczynski, 2001; Stanovich, 1999). In the case of sunkcost
effects, preadolescents high in DMC may have overapplied a
wastenot heuristic (Arkes & Ayton, 1999), which was
considered irrational from a normative perspective in the case
of sunkcost decisions.

FUTURE DIRECTIONS
We believe that the current research offers a unique look into
the decisionmaking abilities of preadolescents. We do
acknowledge certain limitations of the current study and
offer suggestions for future research endeavors. First,
because of time constraints, the actual tasks that we used
in the study represent a subset of the range of JDM tasks
previously assessed in the ADMC and the YDMC. For
example, at the individual scale level, we measured
consistency in risk perception in terms of basic time frame
subset (e.g., probability of getting injured in the next month
versus in the next year). In contrast, the ADMC included
items that assessed more intricate timeframe consistency
judgments involving both nested subsets (e.g., dying in a
terrorist attack is a subset of the superset dying from any
cause) and ones involving complementary events (e.g.,
getting into a car accident while driving versus being accident
free). We speculate that the inclusion of such items would
have increased the range of difculty on the measure. At a
more global level, we chose to omit the Path Independence
and Recognizing Social Norms measures from our PADMC
assessment. Inclusion of all scales would have allowed us to
test an alternative twofactor solution, one with two correlated
factors: a primary factor similar to the one reported in the
current study and a second factor on which Recognizing
Social Norms and Resisting Sunk Costs both positively
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Journal of Behavioral Decision Making

loaded. Determining whether Recognizing Social Norms is


positively correlated with Resisting Sunk Costs and shows the
same patterns of negative correlations that we observed
between Recognizing Sunk Costs and the other DMC
measures would help further illuminate the phenotypic
structure of DMC in preadolescence. We hope that future
research may offer a more complete picture of DMC in
preadolescents across a wider variety of methodological
strategies and decisionmaking tasks.
Second, because our design assessed the associations
between DMC, effortful control, and behavioral outcomes
using only one age group, our results cannot directly speak to
agerelated trends in the development of DMC. However, our
results indicate that the PADMC component scales possess
similar internal consistency to previous DMC assessments
with older populations, suggesting that these scales assess
meaningful variation amongst individuals. Moreover, our
CFA results demonstrated a similar primary factor structure to
that reported in prior assessments. To our knowledge, though,
little research exists on the temporal stability of decision
making. Bruine de Bruin et al. (2007) reported signicant
testretest correlations of the ADMC, suggesting rankorder
stability of the construct. In another study, Levin, Hart,
Weller, and Harshman (2007) found that the magnitude of
riskpreference shifts (i.e., risk taking to avoid losses is greater
than risk taking to achieve gains), which share many
similarities to framing effects, demonstrated signicant test
retest stability 3 years postassessment for a group of children
who were rst observed between the ages of 5 and 7 years. On
the basis of this evidence, we speculate that the DMC
performance will show signicant rankorder stability from
10 to 11 years old through adolescence and from adolescence
to adulthood. We are currently conducting a followup,
longitudinal study that directly addresses this issue.
Finally, we must acknowledge that the current study
relied largely on selfreport data. Although selfreport has
been found to be an economical, reliable, and valid way to
assess individual differences in effortful control (e.g.,
Capaldi & Rothbart, 1992; Davis, Bruce, & Gunnar, 2002;
Ellis & Rothbart, 2001; Muris & Meesters, 2009), we feel
that future research should also consider how neuropsychological tasks that behaviorally assess the function of the
anterior attentional system, such as the go/no go and Flanker
tasks (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974; Nosek & Banaji, 2001) may
be associated with DMC performance, and how these results
may be similar/different to the ones obtained with self
report measures of effortful control. In support, Parker and
Fischhoff (2005) found that executive cognitive functioning, an index consisting of several neuropsychological
tasks designed to measure executive control processes
(Giancola & Mezzich, 2003), was positively associated with
DMC performance. Moreover, Del Missier, Mntyl, and
Bruine de Bruin (2011, this issue) report that the components
of executive functioning (e.g., shifting, monitoring, inhibition) are differentially associated with performance on the
DMC component scales in an adult sample. Similar research
with child samples has the potential to better illuminate the
association between DMC and cognitive control processes.
With respect to behaviors, selfreports of school behaviors
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2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

may have been subject to some selfpresentation biases.


Obtaining observer reports from teachers or more objective
indicators of schoolrelated behaviors (e.g., report cards)
would increase condence in the present results.
CONCLUSIONS
In sum, previous research has offered promise of using
controlled tasks and measures to predict decisionmaking
competence and its consequences (Parker & Fischhoff, 2005;
Bruine de Bruin et al., 2007; Stanovich & West, 2008).
Furthermore, other research has provided the foundation for
developing childfriendly versions of adult decision
making tasks and measures (e.g., Harbaugh et al., 2002;
Klaczynski, 2004; Levin & Hart, 2003; Reyna & Ellis, 1994;
Schlottmann & Anderson, 1994). In this paper, we provide
evidence that the combination of these two lines of research
can lead to a better understanding of the antecedents of good
and bad decisions made by preadolescents. Further, our
paper reinforces the proposition that performance on
decisionmaking tasks reects a positive manifold of
decisionmaking skills rather than random performance
errors. We believe that this research serves as an initial step
toward extending the study of DMC to preadolescent
children, both in terms of the development of decision
making skills and how DMC may relate to both adaptive and
maladaptive reallife choices.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We would like to gratefully acknowledge support from the
National Science Foundation, Grant SES 0721103. We would
like to also thank Grazyna Kochanska and Michael Chmielewski
for their comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
Additionally, we would like to thank Leisha Whareld and
Maggie Eliot for their help with manuscript preparation.
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APPENDIX A: SAMPLE PREADOLESCENT DECISIONMAKING COMPETENCE QUESTIONS


RESISTANCE TO FRAMING (COMPLEMENTARY FRAME IN PARENTHESIS)
Instructions: Each of the following problems presents a choice between two options or a scale rating 1 through 6. For each item,
please circle the answer that best reects your relative preference between the two options. There are no right or wrong answers
on this survey.
Attribute Framing:
In a recent survey at a local middle school, 35% (65%) of the students said they had never cheated (cheated) on a spelling test.
Given the results, how much cheating happens at this school?
1
Very little

6
Very much

Risky Choice Framing:


Suppose that there are two new methods for teaching an advanced math topic.
Method A: Of 100 students using this method, 50 will fail to get a better grade (get a better grade).
Method B: There is a 50% chance that all 100 students will fail to get a better grade (get a better grade) and a 50% chance
that none of the students will fail to get a better grade (get a better grade).
Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)


DOI: 10.1002/bdm

J. A. Weller et al.

Decisionmaking Competence in Preadolescence

425

Which method would you recommend?


1
Most likely to recommend A

6
Most likely to recommend B

Under/Overcondence.
Instructions that were provided are in the succeeding paragraphs: This survey has true/false questions. For example, Iowa
States football team is the Cyclones.
We want you to do two things:
First, answer the question. In this example, you might think Yes, the football team is the Cyclones. So the statement is
TRUE. Then you would circle true.
Iowa States football team is the Cyclones. This statement is [true/false].
Second, think about how sure you are of your answer. Give a number from 50% to 100%. In other words, what is the percent
chance that you are right? Circle one of the numbers on the scale.
If your answer is a total guess, circle 50%. This means that there is a 50% chance that you are right and a 50% chance that you are
wrong. If you are absolutely sure, circle 100%. If you are not sure, then circle a number in between to show how sure you are.
Sample question 1) The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. This statement is [true/false].
50%
just guessing

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%
absolutely sure

Sample question 2) In order to go to St. Louis, you drive south. This statement is [true/false].
50%
just guessing

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%
absolutely sure

APPLYING DECISION RULES


Instructions: When you decide to buy a new product, it is usually a good idea to compare the features of the different brands
that make that product. This allows you to decide what product would be best for you. The following questions will give you
different situations about people deciding which video game system they want to buy.

Low

Medium

How easy it
is to use

How good
the graphic
is

How good
the sound is

High

Game
selection and
variety

Video game
system 1
Video game
system 2

Price

$300.00

$300.00

Tom wants a video game system that is special in at least one way. For him, that means at least
medium in either how good the sound is or game selection and variety.
Which video game system will Tom choose? _______________

Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)


DOI: 10.1002/bdm

426

Journal of Behavioral Decision Making


CONSISTENCY IN RISK PERCEPTION

Instructions: Each of these questions asks for your best guess at the chance that something will happen to you in the future. You
should use the probability scale that you see below. To answer each question, please put a mark on the scale at one specic
tick mark.
If you think that something has no chance of happening to you, mark it as having a 0% chance. If you think that something is
certain to happen to you, mark it as having a 100% chance.
What is the probability that you will go to the principal or have your parents called because of bad behavior at school during
the next month (next two years)?

0%

100%
10%

5%

20%

15%

30%

25%

40%

35%

50%

45%

60%

55%

70%

65%

80%

75%

90%

85%

0%
no chance

95%
100%
certainty

RESISTANCE TO SUNK COSTS


Instructions: Each of the following problems presents a choice between two options or a scale rating 1 through 6. For each item,
please circle the answer that best reects your relative preference between the two options. There are no right or wrong answers
on this survey.
You and a friend are at a movie theater together. Both you and your friend think the movie is getting boring. Youd hate to
waste the money spent on the movie ticket, but you both feel that you would have more fun playing videogames at your
friends house. You could sneak out without other people noticing.
Would you be more likely to stay or to leave?
1
Most likely to stay

Authors biographies:
Joshua A. Weller is a research scientist at Decision Research
(Eugene, OR). His research focuses on how the ability to make
advantageous decisions develops throughout the lifespan. Additionally, Dr. Weller is interested in understanding how individual
differences relate to risk taking and decision making.
Irwin P. Levin is Professor in the Department of Psychology
and the Department of Marketing at the University of Iowa. His
interests are in individual differences in decision making,
particularly risky decision making. His recent work in this area
includes agerelated differences and neuropsychological correlates of behavioral differences.
Jason P. Rose is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the
University of Toledo where he directs the Self and Social
Evaluation Lab. His interests are at the intersection of social
cognition, judgment and decision making, and health psychology.
Specifically, his research has investigated social comparison

Copyright

2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

6
Most likely to leave

processes, norm perception biases and their influence, perceptions


of vulnerability to health threats, and individual/cultural differences
in judgment and decisionmaking.
Elaine Bossard is a current Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa
and acts as the Lab Coordinator for the Levin Decision Making Lab.
Her research interests include understanding age-related differences in decision making and how individual differences influence
judgments and decisions. She holds a B.S. degree in Psychology
and Sociology from the University of Iowa.
Authors addresses:
Joshua A. Weller, Decision Research, Eugene, OR, USA
Irwin P. Levin and Elaine Bossard, Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
Jason P. Rose, Department of Psychology, University of
Toledo, Toledo, OH, USA

J. Behav. Dec. Making, 25: 414426 (2012)


DOI: 10.1002/bdm