Decision-making in healthy children, adolescents and adults explained by the use of increasingly complex proportional reasoning rules


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     Participants were randomly assigned to one of three feedback conditions in which the detail of the outcome was varied. Feedback condition did not affect the results, and therefore was omitted as a factor in the analysis.

Address for correspondence: Hilde M. Huizenga, Department of Developmental Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roeterstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands; e-mail:


In the standard Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), participants have to choose repeatedly from four options. Each option is characterized by a constant gain, and by the frequency and amount of a probabilistic loss. Crone and van der Molen (2004) reported that school-aged children and even adolescents show marked deficits in IGT performance. In this study, we have re-analyzed the data with a multivariate normal mixture analysis to show that these developmental changes can be explained by a shift from unidimensional to multidimensional proportional reasoning (Siegler, 1981; Jansen & van der Maas, 2002). More specifically, the results show a gradual shift with increasing age from (a) guessing with a slight tendency to consider frequency of loss to (b) focusing on frequency of loss, to (c) considering both frequency and amount of probabilistic loss. In the latter case, participants only considered options with low-frequency loss and then chose the option with the lowest amount of loss. Performance improved in a reversed task, in which punishment was placed up front and gain was delivered unexpectedly. In this reversed task, young children are guessing with already a slight tendency to consider both the frequency and amount of gain; this strategy becomes more pronounced with age. We argue that these findings have important implications for the interpretation of IGT performance, as well as for methods to analyze this performance.