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Release: May 31, 2002

UI professor earns $262,000 NSF grant to study decision-making biases

Irwin P. Levin, University of Iowa professor of psychology and marketing, has won a $262,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how children make risky decisions as compared to adults.

Levin's project, "Development of Tasks for Studying Decision Biases in Children," has developed out of more than 30 years of decision-making research at the UI. While previous research has focused on adults, Levin is now turning his attention to children, ages 4-6, to determine whether they have the same tendencies as adults to make risky choices to avoid a loss and to make less risky choices to achieve a gain.

Levin's research team will examine whether children are more, less, or equally inclined toward this "decision bias" and whether differences in children's decision making are predictable based on personality, cognitive, and social development.

Existing research, which has been done almost exclusively with adults, has linked these individual differences to stable personality traits and decision styles, Levin said. "This naturally brings up the dual questions of when such biases develop and whether they can be linked to distinctive childhood dispositions. We have the capability of relating children's decision-making behavior to measures such as shyness, impulsivity, and intelligence," he explained.

A major resource for these studies is a group of 5- and 6 year-olds whose social and emotional development and cognitive capacity have been tracked since they were toddlers.

The research team also plans to examine the correlation between children's decisions and those of their parents on similar tasks and games. To compare children and adults, the research team must first develop a variety of test tasks that can be completed by children but still capture the essence of the decision processes of adults.

Levin also won a $6,000 Center for Advanced Studies Spelman Rockefeller (CASSPR) grant from the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies for the task-development phase of the research. The CASSPR grants are designed to support the early stages of research projects studying children and their families.