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Age, Problem Solving, & The Monty Hall: Does Age Affect Problem Solving Abilities

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The Monty Hall Dilemma (MHD) first made its appearance on a gameshow “Let’s Make a Deal” hosted by Monty Hall. Contestants would be given the choice of three doors and two had a goat behind them and one had a car behind it. Contestants were then asked to choose one of the doors, hoping to choose the car. When they made a choice, Monty would reveal one of the goats and then contestants were questioned about if they wanted to now choose the other unopened door or if they still believed the car was behind their first choice. Many people decided to stick with their first response instead of switching, when switching actually provided better odds of winning the car (Krauss & Wang, 2003). However, this problem seems to stump people of all ages, despite the fact that it seems to be a fairly intuitive problem. Ben-Zeev, Dror, and Stibel (2009) (Age,Hand Preference, Gender)

De Neys and Vanderputte (2011) studied the idea that due to certain heuristics and biases, children sometimes reason more logically and have better choice judgement than adults. This is due to the fact that some stereotypes and heuristics are typically not introduced or available to children. Previous research done on the topic suggests that humans tend to make decisions based on intuitive feelings and stereotypical beliefs instead of a deliberate, controlled reasoning process. This study takes that idea and builds on it by looking at children who do not yet have enough life experience to have developed said stereotypical beliefs and intuitions. The main goal of this study was to prove that children may sometimes be able to make a more statistically accurate choice judgment than an adult given the same scenario, because the child will reason the situation out to the best of their abilities instead of unconsciously acting on a stereotype they believe or a heuristic they have been introduced to.

This research supports the hypothesis that children would respond more accurately to stereotype-based questions because they haven’t been exposed to this type of behavior.

There is an expectation that young or younger children don’t know as much, as many people believe knowledge comes with age. De Neys and Feremans (2013) chose to test younger children’s logistical abilities. This was accomplished by testing the ability and accuracy of of elementary children’s capability to identify their own biases created from associations, for example blue is generally more associated with boys than it is girls. This research was carried out by showing third graders and sixth graders cards they had inherent associations tied to them or there was a higher rate of a certain color than the other and then tested the children to see if they could identify the relation with confidence (De Neys & Feremans, 2013). The children were better able to comprehend and make confident decisions at similar rates as adults when the researchers included a conflict dynamic, but their results did not reach significance (De Neys & Feremans, 2013). De Neys and Feremans (2013) concluded that a potential explanation was children have less confidence when choosing answers based on heuristics in comparison to adults. This implies there may be fewer differences in children’s and adults’ thought processes even as children are coming out of elementary school.

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Dickerson and Fisher (1997) researched the impact of age on completing familiar and unfamiliar tasks. These researchers found that older adults actually performed worse than younger participants. Their tasks tested abilities that while consisting of familiar and unfamiliar tasks, were also tasks that may have been easier to do if you had better motivation to do them or more experience with them like cooking or preparing food (Dickerson & Fisher, 1997). Dickerson and Fisher (1997) also tested participants motor skills and their mental processes. Older participants’ results were significantly poorer in motor skills and mental processes (Dickerson & Fisher, 1997). These results imply that physical and even thought tasks become harder as one grows older.

Kahlbaugh & Mazur (2012) found in their heuristic emphasized research, related to the Monty Hall dilemma, that adults often times fall victim to their natural senses. By that, researchers found that similar events have the same probability of occurring repeatedly. Due to this, the pigeons out performed the humans on original Monty Hall dilemma (Kahlbaugh & Mazur, 2012). The three to five year olds had a more difficult time of understanding how likely an event is to occur in comparison to another event that is similar in nature. The researchers found that this may account for the three to five year olds better performance on the Monty Hall task compared to the adults (Kahlbaugh & Mazur, 2012). While the pigeons often outperformed the adults on the original Monty Hall task, there’s little evidence that either the pigeons or the preschoolers did any better than the adults when the consequences of staying or switching became more apparent. The college students picked up the strategy of switching in fewer tries than the pigeons, whom had more trials in the entire study (Kahlbaugh & Mazur, 2012). This study found in order for better performance to occur on the Monty Hall Dilemma with the college-aged adults and the pigeons that repeated trials, in addition to more variation in the consequences of staying versus switching, has to be present (Kahlbaugh & Mazur, 2012).

An Australian researcher took a look at how attention, intelligence and aging may be interconnected. In the study, there were three sets of variables to measure the interconnectedness of age, measure of intelligence, and attentional variables (Stankov, 1988). The variances in attention were measured with concentration, search, divided attention, selective attention, attentional flexibility, and vigilance tests (Stankov, 1988). A total of 36 tests were given in order to measure crystalized intelligence, fluid intelligence, short-term memory acquisition and retrieval function (Stankov, 1988). The results of the study concluded that selective attention is affected by any outside factors. As well as among the three attentional factors the most entrenched factor is search, which is the ability to find a specific signal among an array of similar signals. Fluid intelligence has been shown to be better measure competing tasks, these tasks allow for short-term recall, retrieval function, as well as more limberness in how one goes about solving problems (Stankov, 1988). Age-related change in fluid and crystallized intelligence in combination with attentional processes are linked leading with decreased attention capabilities and ending with an affect on intelligence (Stankov, 1988). However, the study also concluded that age has no effect on one’s aptitude to divide attention as well as including that perhaps a third factor that cannot be measured may have an influence on intellectual functioning and attention (Stankov, 1988).

There is always a question of if getting older or if being younger hinders or aids a person. These studies looked at age in many different ways and how that affects one’s problem solving abilities. In studies like De Neys & Feremans’ (2013) we see that age has little effect on statistical reasoning as adults and elementary children performed at relatively similar rates. Then in Dickerson and Fisher’s (1997) research we see that age may have had an impact on not just physical condition, but also mental condition. It is our belief that age is associated with people’s problem-solving abilities.


  1. Ben-Zeev,Talia; Dror Itiel; & Stibel, Jeffrey M. (2009). The Collapsing Choice Theory: Dissociating Choice and Judgement in Decision Making. Theory and Decision, 66, 149-179. doi 10.1007/s11238-007-9094-7
  2. De Neys, Wim; Feremans, Vicky. (2013). Development of the Heuristic Bias Detection in Elementary School. Developmental Psychology, 49(2), 258-269. doi 10.1037/a0028320
  3. De Neys, Wim; Vanderputte, Karolien. (2011). When Less is Not More: Stereotype Knowledge and Reasoning Development. Developmental Psychology, 47(2), 432-441. doi 10.1037/a0021313
  4. Dickerson, Anne E.; Fisher, Anne G. (1997). Effects of Familiarity of Task and Choice on the Functional Performance of Younger and Older Adults. Psychology and Aging, 12(2), 247-254. doi 0882-7974/97/53.00
  5. Kahlbaugh, Patricia E.; Mazur, & James E. (2012). Choice Behavior of Pigeons (Columba livia), College Students, and Preschool Children (Homo sapiens) in the Monty Hall Dilemma. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126(4), 407-420. doi 10.1037/a0028273
  6. Krauss, Stefan; & Wang, X. T. (2003). The Psychology of the Monty Hall Problem: Discovering Psychological Mechanisms for Solving a Tenacious Brain Teaser. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 132(1), 3-22. doi 10.1037/0096-3445.132.1.3
  7. Stankov, Lazar. (1988). Aging, Attention, and Intelligence. Psychology and Aging. 3(1), 59-74. doi 0882-7974/88/S00.75
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Age, Problem Solving, & The Monty Hall: Does Age Affect Problem Solving Abilities. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
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