Generating Questions: Processing Time Changes Between Early Adolescence and Young Adulthood

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Information seeking by asking questions is fundamental to solving some problems. How quickly it proceeds can be important, especially if stakes are high. This experiment compared the processing times of three question types generated by early adolescents, middle adolescents, and young adults who sought to identify unknown target exemplars in a series of test arrays. Category questions, which eliminate alternatives based on their membership in contrasting mutually exclusive sets, were of two types: conceptual and perceptual. Conceptual category questions took longer to generate than perceptual category questions for all age groups. Syncretic questions, which refer to more than one category, took longer to generate than perceptual category questions for early adolescents, although they did not take longer to generate than perceptual category questions for the two older groups. Age-related changes in cognitive processing, syncretic thinking, and experience with hypothesis testing provide a framework for interpreting these results.

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