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Knowing When to Doubt: Developing a Critical Stance When Learning From Others



Children may be biased toward accepting information as true, but the fact remains that children are exposed to misinformation from many sources, and mastering the intricacies of doubt is necessary. The current article examines this issue, focusing on understanding developmental changes and consistencies in children's ability to take a critical stance toward information. Research reviewed includes studies of children's ability to detect ignorance, inaccuracy, incompetence, deception, and distortion. Particular emphasis is placed on what this research indicates about how children are reasoning about when to trust and when to doubt. The remainder of the article proposes a framework to evaluate preexisting research and encourage further research, closing with a discussion of several other overarching questions that should be considered to develop a model to explain developmental, individual, and situational differences in children's ability to evaluate information. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
Knowing When to Doubt: Developing a Critical Stance When Learning
From Others
Candice M. Mills
The University of Texas at Dallas
Children may be biased toward accepting information as true, but the fact remains that children are
exposed to misinformation from many sources, and mastering the intricacies of doubt is necessary. The
current article examines this issue, focusing on understanding developmental changes and consistencies
in children’s ability to take a critical stance toward information. Research reviewed includes studies of
children’s ability to detect ignorance, inaccuracy, incompetence, deception, and distortion. Particular
emphasis is placed on what this research indicates about how children are reasoning about when to trust
and when to doubt. The remainder of the article proposes a framework to evaluate preexisting research
and encourage further research, closing with a discussion of several other overarching questions that
should be considered to develop a model to explain developmental, individual, and situational differences
in children’s ability to evaluate information.
Keywords: trust, skepticism, critical thinking, reasoning, social cognition
Children are especially credulous, especially gullible, especially prone
toward acceptance and belief—as if they accepted as effortlessly as
they comprehended but had yet to master the intricacies of doubt.
(Gilbert, 1991, p. 111)
Young children are often thought of as being credulous and
gullible, believing in impossible fantastical characters, holding
grandiose ideas about their own abilities, and accepting what they
hear mostly without question. Indeed, some have argued that
believing everything, even to the point of gullibility, may be an
evolutionary necessity in order for children to learn information
quickly and efficiently (e.g., Dawkins, 1993). Yet mastering the
intricacies of doubt is essential. Children are bombarded with
information from many sources, and not all information is com-
pletely accurate: claims can be inaccurate due to ignorance, in-
competence, or incomplete knowledge, distorted due to bias, or
deceptive due to manipulative intent. Even if adults and children
do generally default to trusting new claims, they also need to be
vigilant for reasons to disregard the claims.
Recent research in developmental psychology has explored this
issue, often using the term selective trust to describe the ability to
distinguish who should be trusted from who should be not (e.g.,
Bergstrom, Moehlmann, & Boyer, 2006; Cle´ment, 2010; Harris &
Corriveau, 2011; Harris & Koenig, 2006; Heyman, 2008; Heyman
& Legare, in press; Koenig & Harris, 2005). Other researchers
have used the term epistemic vigilance to focus on the ability to
filter out misinformation from accurate information (Sperber et al.,
2010). Here, I use the broader term critical stance to describe an
approach toward evaluating information, one that involves the
ability to weigh multiple pieces of information in order to deter-
mine the truth value of encountered claims, being prepared to
doubt if necessary.
Regardless of the specific term that is used, though, it is clear
that these terms all share a common theme: at times, it is necessary
to distinguish sources that are more trustworthy from sources that
are less so. The current theoretical article focuses on what is
known about this ability, keeping in mind the goal of developing
a critical stance. To address this issue, I begin with a broad
overview examining developmental change and stability in how
children evaluate information. Next, to better understand the rea-
sons for what is seen in development, I pose a framework to
evaluate preexisting research as well as to motivate additional
research. I close by presenting several additional questions that
need to be considered in order to develop a model to explain
developmental, individual, and situational differences in children’s
ability to evaluate information.
What Is Developing, and What Is Stable?
The primary focus of research on the development of a critical
stance toward information is to determine whether children treat
all sources of information equally or if they can distinguish be-
tween them. Some bias toward trusting the claims of others makes
sense, given that children must often rely on information from
others to learn (Harris & Koenig, 2006). But not all information is
equally accurate or reliable—at times it is necessary to doubt. In
order to understand developmental changes in the ability to dis-
tinguish between more and less trustworthy sources of informa-
This article was published Online First August 13, 2012.
Candice M. Mills, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, The Uni-
versity of Texas at Dallas.
Preparation of this article was supported in part by National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development Grant HD-061758. The author
thanks Judith Danovitch, Fadwa Elashi, Meridith Grant, Asheley Landrum,
Angie Johnston, and Amelia Pflaum for feedback on previous versions of
the article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Candice
M. Mills, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, The University of
Texas at Dallas, P.O. Box 830688, GR41, Richardson, TX 75083. E-mail:
Developmental Psychology © 2012 American Psychological Association
2013, Vol. 49, No. 3, 404– 418 0012-1649/13/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0029500
tion, a burgeoning field of research has emerged. This research has
tended to focus on preschool-age children between the ages of 3
and 5 years, although there is work with infants and toddlers as
well as with elementary school-age children.
In many versions of the typical paradigm used in this research,
children first receive an introduction to one or two informants (i.e.,
the sources providing claims to evaluate). For instance, mirroring
the idea of learning about someone through gossip or hearsay,
children might hear an experimenter provide a description of the
informants (e.g., “This person does not know very much”). Or
similar to the idea of recognizing on one’s own that someone is not
likely to provide helpful claims, children might witness some
informants answer questions or behave in a certain manner. This
introduction serves to provide children with some background
regarding the informants’ characteristics that may be relevant to
the accuracy of their claims. But regardless of whether the children
receive an introduction to the informants, children encounter a
situation in which they could demonstrate doubt: they witness one
or two informants who make statements, demonstrate behaviors, or
engage in other kinds of activities that they could evaluate. A
number of measures have been used to represent how children are
evaluating the claims or behaviors of the informants, including
how much children learn, who children think is more helpful,
whose advice they follow, and so on.
The specific aims of these studies have varied drastically. Some
research has focused on developmental changes, while other re-
search has focused on remarkable competencies in younger chil-
dren and infants. Still other research clusters preschoolers to-
gether or takes no stance regarding reasons for or against
developmental improvements on aspects of selective trust com-
petency. It can be difficult to tell what this research tells us
about the development of a critical stance except that children
sometimes— but not always—prefer learning from or gathering
information from or asking questions of a more trustworthy
source over a less trustworthy one.
To move forward toward developing a model regarding the devel-
opment of a critical stance, we must first look for common themes in
the research to date. To that end, I will briefly review this vast body
of literature and focus on clustering the research into two main
themes: what changes over the preschool years and into middle
childhood, and what seems more consistent across development.
What Is Developing?
Where it starts: The early years. When presented with
claims made by inaccurate informants, a first step is to recognize
that inaccuracy is possible, which infants can sometimes do (e.g.,
Koenig & Echols, 2003). Beyond that, though, it is essential to
apply that understanding when faced with additional information
from those sources.
Responding to uncertainty. One way children can do this is
by discounting information from informants who have expressed
clear uncertainty. Infants as young as 14 months have shown some
ability to discount unreliable informants. For instance, after being
introduced to one informant who appropriately showed enthusiasm
when looking inside a container holding an object (the “reliable
looker”) and another who inappropriately showed enthusiasm be-
cause the container held no object (the “unreliable looker”), infants
demonstrated understanding of the informants’ differing reliability
in three ways: they were more likely to follow the eye gaze of the
reliable looker over the unreliable one (Chow, Poulin-Dubois, &
Lewis, 2008), more likely to expect the reliable looker but not the
unreliable one to demonstrate appropriate looking in another task
(Poulin-Dubois & Chow, 2009), and more likely to imitate the
reliable looker but not the unreliable one (Poulin-Dubois, Brooker,
& Polonia, 2011). Fourteen-month-olds have also been shown to
prefer to imitate an informant who has confidently and correctly
interacted with familiar objects over an informant who has inter-
acted incompetently with uncertainty (Zmyj, Buttelman, Carpen-
ter, & Daum, 2010; see also Birch, Akmal, & Frampton, 2010).
Another way to express uncertainty is through language (e.g., to
think or guess vs. to know). Three-year-olds are sometimes sensi-
tive to these cues, being less likely to learn a new object’s label
from an informant who expresses uncertainty (e.g., “I think this is
a spoon”; Jaswal & Malone, 2007; “I don’t know what a blicket
is”; Sabbagh & Baldwin, 2001) or has indicated ignorance on prior
related problems (e.g., Koenig & Harris, 2005, Experiment 2) than
if the informant has been confident and/or indicated knowledge
(e.g., “I know this is a spoon”).
Responding to a lack of episodic knowledge. A different cue
that young children can use is whether an informant has or does
not have relevant episodic knowledge. For example, an informant
who has seen what is inside of a box is more likely to provide
accurate claims about the contents of the box than an informant
who has not. By the time they turn 3, children have a sense of the
importance of trusting someone with the appropriate episodic
knowledge (e.g., Pillow, 1989). For instance, 3-year-olds attend to
whether an informant has looked inside a container to guide
whether they should change their own guesses about the contain-
er’s contents to match the informant’s claims (Robinson, Cham-
pion, & Mitchell, 1999). Furthermore, if 3-year-olds are presented
with evidence that an informant has been incorrect several times in
the past at knowing the location of a hidden toy (thus, lacking
episodic knowledge), they ignore that informant’s claims about the
location of subsequent hidden toys (Ganea, Koenig, & Millett,
2011). Three-year-olds also recognize that a knowledgeable infor-
mant should be trusted only when his claims are based on his own
current knowledge, not past successes (Kushnir, Wellman, &
Gelman, 2008).
Young children do not need to just witness someone not having
access to information to know to doubt that person. They can also use
explanations indicating the presence or absence of an informant’s
episodic knowledge to guide their trust. For instance, 3-year-olds
show selective trust for an informant who has indicated the source of
her knowledge (e.g., looked in a container) over an informant who has
indicated the likelihood of ignorance (e.g., guessing or pretending
something is in a container; Koenig, 2012).
Responding to a history of inaccuracy. Another cue that
young children can use in determining when to trust someone is
that person’s history of accuracy regarding similar problems in the
past. Much of the research on this topic has focused on accuracy
regarding the labels of familiar objects: someone who has correctly
labeled familiar objects is more reliable as a source for the labels
of novel objects than someone who has not. When young children
are introduced to two informants providing conflicting names for
novel objects, they are often better at learning words from infor-
mants who have accurately labeled objects in the past than infor-
mants who have demonstrated a history of inaccuracy (e.g., Koe-
nig & Harris, 2005; Scofield & Behrend, 2008). Young children
are capable of selectively learning from the more reliable source
even without being encouraged to explicitly note that informant
was most helpful (Birch, Vauthier, & Bloom, 2008). Furthermore,
they can also keep track of past reliability when learning new
functions and how to use new tools (e.g., Birch et al., 2008;
DiYanni & Kelemen, 2008).
Two-year-olds have also shown some sensitivity to cues indi-
cating reliability. In one study, 2-year-olds were introduced to only
one informant who provided claims regarding the labels of familiar
objects; the informants were accurate, inaccurate, uninformative
(“Look at that”), knowledgeable (“I know what that is”), or igno-
rant (“I don’t know what that is”). During the test phase, 2-year-
olds accepted new names for familiar objects from informants who
had previously been accurate or knowledgeable or had provided
uninformative answers over informants who had previously been
inaccurate or ignorant. In other words, children were more willing
to override their own knowledge if the informant had been reliable
previously or seemed likely to be reliable than if the informant
seemed flawed. Interestingly, when presented with only one infor-
mant labeling a novel object, 2-year-olds learned from her regard-
less of her prior knowledge status, suggesting a default to trust
when no other sources of information are available (at least in the
domain of word learning; Krogh-Jesperson & Echols, 2012; see
also Koenig & Woodward, 2010).
Responding to negativity. Young children also show some
sensitivity to traits that indicate that a source may be bad. For
example, 3-year-olds are more trusting of claims made by a nice
puppet than a mean one (niceness was demonstrated through
behavior, with the experimenter asking a question about whether
the behavior was kind; Mascaro & Sperber, 2009). It is possible to
reject claims made by mean informants simply because of wanting
to avoid informants who seem negative. Thus, even younger
children and infants may avoid trusting negative informants. The
power of negativity in affecting how people evaluate information
will be addressed several times throughout this article.
Summary. In sum, before the age of 4, children show some
ability to discount claims made by informants who express clear
uncertainty (e.g., Sabbagh & Baldwin, 2001), lack relevant epi-
sodic knowledge (e.g., Robinson et al., 1999), have made clearly
inaccurate claims in the past (e.g., Koenig & Harris, 2005), or are
mean (Mascaro & Sperber, 2009). Although there are likely to be
some developmental differences during the first few years of life,
such as the strong possibility that children can be aware that an
informant is inaccurate earlier than they are capable of being able
to selectively trust a more accurate informant (also seen in older
children with more complicated tasks, described later), more re-
search is needed.
Changes from early to middle childhood. In examining de-
velopmental differences during the preschool years in how chil-
dren evaluate information, much of the research to date suggests
that children 3 years old and younger make their trust decisions
primarily on the basis of a binary decision of goodness or badness.
In contrast, older children recognize some of the subtleties in
evaluating informants. To further explain this idea, I will walk
through several lines of research finding developmental changes
between 2- and 3-year-olds and older children.
Understanding the importance of the degree of inaccuracy.
One major developmental change in early childhood is in how
children respond to the degree of inaccuracy or accuracy. For
example, although 3-year-olds prefer to learn from an informant
who has been 100% accurate over one who has made errors, they
do not show preferential learning when both informants have made
errors in the past, even if one informant has made only one error
and the other has always erred (Pasquini, Corriveau, Koenig, &
Harris, 2007). They also do not distinguish between informants
who have clearly been accurate in the past and those who they
know nothing about (Corriveau, Meints, & Harris, 2009). These
studies provide evidence that 3-year-olds are somewhat absolutist
when determining whom to trust, evaluating informants based on
a binary decision of good versus bad. They seem to default to trust
people they do not know anything about, and when an informant
makes even one error, she becomes “bad” or untrustworthy.
Four-year-olds were much more successful in these studies but
that does not mean they are always sensitive to the number and
kind of errors when evaluating claims. Some errors are more major
than others; for instance, calling a tiger a mouse is a larger error
than calling a tiger a lion, and adults may be less forgiving of large
errors than small ones. In one set of studies, 4- to 7-year-olds could
recognize the distinction between small and large errors in labeling
objects and in describing the quantity of dots on a card, but there
were developmental differences in how children applied that
knowledge when evaluating subsequent claims. Although 4-year-
olds could keep in mind who had made greater numerical errors in
the past when evaluating new claims, it was not until age 6 or 7
that children succeeded at applying an understanding of less mea-
surable errors (e.g., whether it is worse to call a tiger a mouse or
a lion). Furthermore, only 7-year-olds used claims made by the
informant who had previously made smaller errors to influence
their own answers (Einav & Robinson, 2010). In other words, by
age 4, children can reflect on the degree of someone’s errors, but
there are still developmental improvements in sensitivity to the
degree of errors in different domains and in recognizing that some
errors can be informative.
Understanding deception. Another major development seen
in early childhood is in responses to deception. Even though
3-year-olds can discount claims made by a mean informant, they
struggle to respond appropriately to informants described as liars
or as being tricky. For instance, 4-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds,
doubt claims made by a puppet described as a “big liar” (Mascaro
& Sperber, 2009), and 4- and 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds,
show some ability to infer from the claims made by someone
described as “tricky” what the true state of reality is (Lee &
Cameron, 2000).
In fact, several studies have found that when it comes to rec-
ognizing deceptive claims, 3-year-olds seem to be biased to trust
testimony over other cues that may be more meaningful for de-
tecting deception. For example, although 4- and 5-year-olds have
been shown to use the eye gaze of deceptive actors as opposed to
their false claims of ignorance to infer the correct location of a
hidden object, 3-year-olds struggle to do so. This poor perfor-
mance does not seem to be due to 3-year-olds being unable to
follow eye gaze: instead, they seem to focus more on the incorrect
answers provided verbally over correct answers provided through
nonverbal cues (Freire, Eskritt, & Lee, 2004). Three-year-olds
have also been shown to follow deceptive testimony even after
multiple trials of witnessing that the claims were incorrect, but in
past research, this was much more likely to happen when the
testimony was presented live or on video than via other mediums,
such as over audio (Jaswal, Carrington Croft, Setia, & Cole, 2010).
Other studies find evidence that 3-year-olds are biased to rely on
other social cues that are typically informative (e.g., pointing, eye
gaze; Csibra & Gergely, 2009), even though they can learn over
time to avoid cues provided by nonsocial agents, like pointers
(Couillard & Woodward, 1999).
Further developments are seen during early childhood in under-
standing deception. In one line of work, 4- to 6-year-olds were
presented with an informant described as having negative inten-
tions toward the child (e.g., someone described as “mean” and not
wanting the child to find a treat), even though the informant
showed no other signs of deception. The informant then claimed
that a treat was hidden in one of two boxes. Although 5-year-olds
accurately inferred the correct answer on about half of the trials,
only 6-year-olds successfully inferred the correct answer at greater
than chance levels (Mascaro & Sperber, 2009). This research has
found that it is easier for children to recognize claims to be false
and to infer the correct answers if the informants are explicitly
described as having certain dispositions (i.e., being “big liars”) as
opposed to described as having certain intentions (i.e., not wanting
the child to have a treat). Indeed, the latter may take considerable
mind-reading abilities, as children have to infer the link between
intentions and statements (Mascaro & Sperber, 2009).
Other developmental changes in recognizing deception relate to
the ability to generalize from someone’s past deceptive behavior to
make decisions. In one study, children were introduced to an
informant who either helped or tricked two others in a task to find
a prize hidden in one of two boxes. When the helper and the tricker
later gave advice to the child, 3-year-olds trusted both helpers and
trickers indiscriminately and did not indicate metacognitive aware-
ness of who was trying to help. In contrast, 4-year-olds realized
that the helpers were trying to help more than the trickers, but they
were unable to use this understanding to selectively trust the
helper. It was not until age 5 that children were able to both
understand that the helpers were trying to help more than the
trickers and to use this understanding to selectively trust the
helpers (Vanderbilt, Liu, & Heyman, 2011). This research pro-
vides evidence that just because a child may know something
about who might provide more accurate claims does not mean that
the child can apply that knowledge when evaluating specific
Summary. Beyond age 3, children show some ability to move
beyond absolutism when evaluating others’ claims—for instance,
when deciding whom to trust, they pay attention to how many
errors someone has made in the past. They are also capable of
detecting some forms of deception. That said, before the age of 6
or 7, children tend to struggle more when the reasons to doubt are
more subtle (e.g., trusting someone who has made small errors
instead of large ones in labeling familiar animals) or involve
greater understanding of the role of intentions and motivations
(e.g., detecting deception).
Changes in middle childhood. In middle childhood, children
have a better sense of how past actions, intentions, and motivations
influence behavior. For example, unlike preschool-age children,
they can use a single encounter with informants to guide future
information seeking (Fitneva & Dunfield, 2010). In addition, un-
like younger children, they understand more complicated cues to
deception (e.g., that gaze aversion can be a clue someone is lying;
Einav & Hood, 2008), although they find it somewhat more
difficult to detect the truth when encountering verbal–nonverbal
inconsistencies in behavior (Rotenberg, Simourd, & Moore, 1989;
of course, adults also have difficulty detecting body language and
facial expressions suggesting deception; see Ekman, 1992).
Detecting distortions. Children also begin to show signs of
detecting distortion. Distorted claims take many forms, from self-
interested statements to partial judgments to persuasive testimony.
One potentially distorted source of information is self-report: at
times, individuals may evaluate themselves more positively than
merited (e.g., claiming to be the smartest in a classroom even if
one is not). Research has found that 10- and 11-year-olds, but not
6- and 7-year-olds, demonstrate skepticism regarding the accuracy
of self-report for evaluative traits (Heyman & Legare, 2005).
Likewise, although 8-year-olds recognize that claims made with
someone’s self-interest are less trustworthy than claims made
against someone’s self-interest, 6-year-olds show the opposite
intuition (Mills & Keil, 2005). Thus, 6- and 7-year-olds seem to
struggle to recognize how claims about one’s own abilities and
achievements may be distorted.
Another potential source of distortion is partiality. Partiality
may be more difficult for children to understand than skewed
self-report, as it relates to distortion regarding others, and the
motivations for this may be less salient. Even 6-year-olds have
some sense that it is possible for someone to be biased in favor or
against someone because of preexisting relationships (e.g., some-
one might choose his undeserving best friend as a winner of a
contest; Mills, Al-Jabari, & Archacki, 2012). That said, they do not
necessarily keep that in mind when evaluating claims that may be
incorrect due to bias, although they are better at detecting negative
bias (e.g., selecting against one’s enemy as the winner) than
positive bias (e.g., selecting one’s friend as the winner; Mills &
Grant, 2009). Eight-year-olds show more advanced reasoning as
long as the evidence that the claim was likely biased is readily
apparent (e.g., a judge choosing a friend as the winner of the
contest; Mills & Grant, 2009) or involves negative biases (Mills &
Keil, 2008). Otherwise, if asked to infer accuracy based on infor-
mation regarding personal connections, it is not until age 10 that
children can do so (Mills & Keil, 2008). As children grow older,
they become more capable of placing weight on the context of the
claim when evaluating the likelihood of bias (e.g., Mills & Grant,
2009; Mills & Keil, 2008; Mills & Landrum, in press). Thus, there
are clear improvements in the ability to understand, evaluate, and
predict the effect of partiality on claims.
Finally, distortion can involve persuasive testimony: claims that
are framed in certain ways to convince others to engage in certain
behaviors or think certain things. These kinds of claims may be
extremely difficult to detect, as the connection between the infor-
mant’s motives and the way the claims are skewed is sometimes
difficult to observe. Much of the work on this topic with children
has been done in the realm of advertising (see Friestad & Wright,
1994; John, 1999; Moses & Baldwin, 2005). Although even 3- to
4-year-olds have some sense that advertisements differ from pro-
gramming and that advertisers have the goal of selling a product,
not until between the ages of 6 and 8 do children develop an
understanding of the methods used to influence others to purchase
a product, such as presenting biased or misleading information.
Even when children do have richer knowledge of advertising, they
may not consistently apply that knowledge when confronted with
advertising claims (e.g., Brucks, Armstrong, & Goldberg, 1988;
Livingstone & Helsper, 2006). In fact, children may not regularly
apply defenses against advertising until they are older, perhaps not
until age 11 and older (John, 1999).
Summary. In middle childhood, children have a better sense
of how intentions and motivations influence behavior, understand-
ing more complex reasons to doubt, such as persuasion and dis-
tortion. But just because they have this knowledge does not mean
they necessarily apply it.
What Is Stable?
Much of the research to date examining the development of a
critical stance toward information has focused on examining de-
velopmental changes or focusing on one particular age group. But
there is evidence for a few aspects of how children and adults
evaluate information as being fairly stable across development.
Default response to new information. Some have argued
that children and adults assume new information is true, given that
most communicative messages are intended to be accurate (e.g.,
Gilbert, 1991; Sperber, 2001). According to this perspective (Gil-
bert, 1991), when individuals encounter a new claim, they implic-
itly accept it as true, and only later do they update their judgments
to mark doubt if necessary. This perspective has been supported by
research; for instance, when adults’ cognitive resources are taxed
so that they process information more superficially than normal,
their immediate evaluation of that information generally reflects
trust, not doubt (Gilbert, 1991). Although in some circumstances,
adults are hesitant in their initial assessments of claims, such as
when the information is clearly relevant to them (e.g., Hasson,
Simmons, & Todorov, 2005; Sperber et al., 2010), when they have
strong background knowledge that influences their immediate as-
sessments (Richter, Schroeder, & Wöhrmann, 2009), or when
goals related to survival are involved (e.g., Ferguson & Zayas,
2009), there still seems to be a strong bias toward trusting new
This seems to be the case with children as well. For instance,
2-year-olds trust informants who have provided uninformative
claims in the past, judging them more similarly to previously
accurate informants than previously inaccurate ones (Krogh-
Jesperson & Echols, 2012), and 3-year-olds show no preference
when an accurate informant is contrasted with a neutral one,
suggesting that they are assuming both informants are accurate
until they make an error (Corriveau, Meints, & Harris, 2009). In
other words, across development, children and adults tend to trust
new claims if they have no clear reason to doubt. What counts as
a clear reason to doubt, though, differs across development and
may depend on a number of factors, to be discussed later.
The power of negativity. Another contender for what is sta-
ble across development is that when encountering information
from others, given that children and adults may be inclined to
process negative information more carefully than positive infor-
mation (e.g., Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001),
people may be more cautious when evaluating informants when
negative cues are present (Koenig & Doebel, in press). Perhaps
this is somewhat related to the idea of cheater detection (e.g.,
Cosmides & Tooby, 2000)—people may be biased toward protect-
ing themselves from clear cheaters or clearly bad sources. There is
some evidence to support this possibility, given that even infants
distinguish “good” characters from “bad” ones (e.g., Hamlin,
Wynn, & Bloom, 2007; Kuhlmeier, Wynn, & Bloom, 2003) and
that 3-year-olds (the youngest age studied to date) avoid trusting
claims from informants described as “mean” (Mascaro & Sperber,
2009). But, again, what counts as a clearly bad source as well as
how this information is used (or misused) may change over de-
velopment (an idea that will be discussed later in this article).
Background knowledge is important— but sometimes for
good and sometimes for bad. Across development, children
and adults often apply their background knowledge, when rele-
vant, to evaluate information. For instance, 2- and 3-year-olds tend
to follow their own intuitions regarding how to interact with an
object instead of an informant’s behaviors (Birch et al., 2010).
Similarly, 3-year-olds who witnessed informants label hybrid ob-
jects that looked more like one object than another (e.g., one object
was a cross between a key and a spoon but looked more like a key)
trust their own intuitions about the object labels most of the time
over labels provided by others (Jaswal & Malone, 2007). Three-
year-olds have also been found to be more successful at ignoring
information from misleading informants if they have had previous
success trusting their own judgment on the same task (Ma &
Ganea, 2010) or have clear evidence present at the time an incor-
rect claim is made to discount it (Jaswal, 2010). In some cases,
even infants rely on their own judgment over information from
others (e.g., Chow et al., 2008).
Background knowledge can be applied in a number of different
situations, from having the vocabulary to evaluate the contents of
a claim (e.g., Jaswal, McKercher, & VanderBorght, 2008; Koenig
& Woodward, 2010; Moore, Bryant, & Furrow, 1989) to under-
standing how the affordances of a tool would lead it to be used in
certain ways (DiYanni & Kelemen, 2008) to recognizing that the
claim someone is making is improbable and likely deceptive or
incorrect (Lee, Cameron, Doucette, & Talwar, 2002; Robinson,
Mitchell, & Nye) to determining whether a novel entity is real or
fake (Tullos & Woolley, 2009; Woolley, Boerger, & Markman,
2004; Woolley & Van Reet, 2006). But it is also important to note
that relying on background knowledge may sometimes be prob-
lematic. Indeed, children are often notoriously poor judges of
whether they know or do not know something (e.g., Flavell,
Fredrichs, & Hoyt, 1970; Marazita & Merriman, 2004; Pressley,
Levin, Ghatala, & Ahmad, 1987). Both children and adults often
suffer from an illusion of explanatory depth, assuming their un-
derstanding of a topic is deeper than it actually is (Mills & Keil,
2004; Rozenblit & Keil, 2002). If they are not well calibrated to
their own knowledge status, then it may be difficult for them to
recognize when they should and should not consider their own
prior knowledge when evaluating claims. Furthermore, even when
children do have a good sense of what their background knowl-
edge is on a topic, their willingness and ability to consider it may
vary drastically depending on the circumstances (e.g., the salience
of informant characteristics that indicate prestige or expertise). The
fact is that adults often overestimate their knowledge and under-
standing (e.g., Dunning, Johnson, Ehrlinger, & Kruger, 2003),
which can lead them to make poor choices when evaluating new
information. Thus, background knowledge can help or hinder,
depending on how it is used and how well calibrated someone is.
Summary. Across development, people seem to have a de-
fault to trust new information, although they may be particularly
receptive to cues indicating negativity. Also across development,
reference to background knowledge is frequently necessary in
order to evaluate whether a claim should be trusted. There are
likely to be other aspects of how people evaluate information that
are stable across development, but additional research is needed to
identify them.
Developing a Model for the Ability to Take a Critical
In characterizing the development of the ability to take a critical
stance toward information, we need to ask ourselves how much of
what we see in children really relates to what we see in adults. We
know that adults often struggle to appropriately evaluate claims,
falling victim to biases and accepting ridiculous ideas. We describe
how amazing it is that infants and young children show an ability
to prefer learning a word or behavior from a more reliable source
over a less reliable one, and in the next breath we curse our
students for not being able to distinguish between propaganda and
scientific research articles as sources of information. Clearly, there
is a disconnect between the successes seen in younger children and
the failures seen in adults.
In moving forward, to better address the question of what is
changing and what is constant over development, it is crucial to
reflect on the vast body of research in social psychology examin-
ing persuasion and attitude change. Reviewing the strengths and
weaknesses in how adults evaluate information provides insight
into some of the changes seen in development as well as motiva-
tion for focusing on particular weaknesses in children for inter-
vention. A full review of the rich body of literature on models of
persuasion and attitude change is outside the scope of this article.
That said, one of the early models of how to approach examining
how adults evaluate information can be easily applied to research
with children. Hovland, Janis, and Kelley (1953) asked a question
regarding how people evaluate information that seems quite simple
but is incredibly powerful: “Who says what to whom?” Who refers
to the informant or source of a message, what refers to the message
itself, and whom refers to the target of the message. At times, as
demonstrated below, each of these factors plays a crucial role in
how successful a person is at evaluating a message and knowing
when to disregard a claim. Therefore, in this next section, I review
what we know about each of these factors as well as what we need
to know to better understand the development of the ability to take
a critical stance toward information.
The Who: What Are the Characteristics of the
Informant Providing a Claim?
In much of the research with children to date, the focus has been
on examining children’s ability to detect cues to inaccuracy, de-
ception, or distortion, and less attention has been paid to how other
informant characteristics could influence this process. Yet other
characteristics matter. Some, like expertise, may be incredibly
important to consider when evaluating claims (in research with
adults in social psychology, these characteristics are often labeled
as central characteristics); others, like the group membership of an
informant, may at times distract from the task at hand (often
labeled peripheral characteristics; see Petty & Cacioppo, 1986).
Expertise. One important reason to doubt a claim is when
someone does not have the appropriate expertise to answer a
question. This connects to recognizing when someone is ignorant,
but there are some important differences. Ignorance relates to a
lack of knowledge, and in prior studies, this lack has tended to be
focused either on episodic knowledge (i.e., not knowing the con-
tents of a container) or a generic statement about someone not
knowing something. In contrast, a lack of expertise relates to a lack
of specialized semantic knowledge related to the question at hand.
Detecting a lack of expertise may be quite tricky, as an informant
may be competent in some domains or have some basic knowledge
in the domain at hand and yet still not be able to satisfactorily
answer questions.
By age 4, children can attribute different kinds of knowledge to
familiar experts (e.g., doctors and car mechanics) as well as to
novel experts (e.g., eagle experts and bicycle experts) on the basis
of more than simple association between words related to the
domain. They use their understanding of different domains of
knowledge and expertise to determine which speaker will be more
likely to provide an accurate answer to a question (Lutz & Keil,
2002). As children grow older, they grow better at recognizing
different types of expertise and applying this understanding when
selecting informants (e.g., Danovitch & Keil, 2004, 2007).
It is important to note that just because a child recognizes that
different people are likely to know the answers to different ques-
tions does not mean he or she can evaluate claims made by those
people in light of what they are likely to know. To succeed at
knowing whom to question, children must connect the domain of
expertise mentioned in a question to the informant likely to know
the correct answer. In contrast, to succeed at evaluating claims
made by different informants, children must recognize the domain
of expertise needed to make a specific claim, override a tendency
to trust new claims, and determine whether the person making the
claim has the expertise needed for the claim to be accurate.
Even in research mentioned earlier on children’s understanding
of inaccuracy, preschoolers were found to sometimes be more
successful at indicating which of two informants they might ask
about a given problem than at accurately evaluating claims made
by those two informants (e.g., Einav & Robinson, 2010; Koenig,
2012). Regarding children’s understanding of expertise, a similar
pattern has been found: preschoolers recognize which expert
would be likely to know the answer to a given question yet
struggle to evaluate claims made by those informants in light of
their expertise (Landrum, Mills, & Johnston, 2011).
That said, it is clear that in some cases, preschoolers can use
knowledge from appropriate experts to help solve simple prob-
lems, like determining which key can open a box (Mills, Legare,
Bills, & Mejias, 2010; see also Mills, Legare, Grant, & Landrum,
2011; Sobel & Corriveau, 2010). But because this area of research
is so new, how children think about claims made by different
experts or by people with and without specific expertise remains
largely unknown.
Age. One informant characteristic that can sometimes— but
not always—serve as a cue to knowledge status is age. When all
else is equal, children seem biased to believe that adults are better
sources of information than children. That said, they do not blindly
rely on age: for example, 3- and 4-year-olds believe that a child
who has reliably named objects in the past will be more trustwor-
thy than an adult who has unreliably done so (Jaswal & Neely,
2006). They also recognize that there are circumstances when a
child may know more than an adult (e.g., a child may know more
about new toys than an adult; VanderBorght & Jaswal, 2009). Still,
in some cases, children may feel social pressure to agree with
claims made by an older source due to the connection with power
and authority.
Power and authority. Little research has examined how chil-
dren are influenced by the authority of the informant, but research
with adults frequently finds that they are more trusting of claims
made by powerful sources than powerless ones (e.g., Michener &
Burt, 1975). This finding with adults may be problematic when
interpreting children’s capacity to evaluate informant claims. In-
deed, Cle´ment (2010) pointed out that many testimony studies
have involved informants without much prestige or authority,
suggesting that young children can do well at rejecting testimony
when the informant is neutral but may have trouble when other
cues come into play. Supporting this point, researchers have found
that children are sometimes willing to reject claims made by
puppets that contrast their own beliefs (e.g., Cle´ment, Koenig, &
Harris, 2004) while trusting similar claims made by informants
with more authority, such as adults (e.g., Ma & Ganea, 2010). In
the eyewitness testimony literature, children are affected by the
power of the source when providing their own testimony (e.g.,
Goodman & Schwartz-Kenney, 1992). Children also trust claims
made in person more than those presented via audio only (Jaswal,
2010). Thus, given that many claims children encounter in every-
day life are from more powerful sources than themselves, prior
research may be overestimating how capable children are of taking
a critical stance toward information.
Relationships. Another cue that children may be influenced
by is their relationship with an informant. In studies involving
word learning, 3-year-olds are influenced by the familiarity of the
informant making novel claims (e.g., whether the informant is a
familiar or unfamiliar preschool teacher), and this overrides their
ability to examine her level of accuracy on that particular task; 4-
and 5-year-olds are more successful at focusing on past accuracy
instead of familiarity (Corriveau & Harris, 2009). Thus, 3-year-
olds seem particularly influenced by the familiarity of an infor-
mant—and this may override their ability to detect past accuracy.
Another closely related factor is whether the informant is in
one’s in-group. Group membership may be an even stronger cue
than familiarity, as group membership implies similar beliefs and
preferences, which could lead someone to be biased to trust an
ingroup member. In some cases, group membership may be a
meaningful cue for trust; for instance, preschool-age children
prefer learning new functions from someone speaking in a native
accent than someone speaking in a nonnative accent, presumably
because they assume that the person speaking with the native
accent has more relevant knowledge than the other informant, all
other characteristics being equal (Kinzler, Corriveau, & Harris,
2011). But in other cases, ingroup bias can be problematic: for
instance, just because someone is on the same sports team as you
does not mean that he or she knows more about domains unrelated
to sports compared with someone from a different team. Elashi and
Mills (2011) found that 3- to 7-year-olds initially tended to trust
ingroup members over outgroup members. Moreover, after wit-
nessing an ingroup member incorrectly label unfamiliar objects,
children across ages seemed reluctant to give up their trust in an
ingroup member. Thus, it is important for children to recognize
that group membership is not always indicative of a reliable source
of information.
Negativity. As mentioned earlier, children and adults may be
inclined to process negative information more carefully than pos-
itive information. In fact, at times, children may place more weight
on negativity over other characteristics like expertise and reliabil-
ity when evaluating informants. Recent research has found that
preschoolers are less likely to trust an expert’s claims if he was
mean than if he was nice (Landrum et al., 2011), and in some
situations, they seem to struggle to decide how much to focus on
past reliability and how much to focus on niceness when encoun-
tering claims about the names of novel objects (Johnston, Mills, &
Landrum, 2011). Preschoolers also seem to be influenced by a
pitchfork effect, assuming that someone who has one negative
characteristic (e.g., a nonexpert in a familiar domain) will be
ignorant in other domains (Koenig & Jaswal, 2011). In middle
childhood, children’s attention to negativity is also apparent in
their understanding of bias (e.g., Mills & Grant, 2009; Mills &
Landrum, in press).
This sensitivity toward negativity may be useful in many situ-
ations: for instance, the fact that an informant has a negative
characteristic (e.g., being unfriendly) may be indicative that the
informant should not be trusted (e.g., the unfriendly informant
does not like you and is going to lie). But at other times, an
informant’s negative characteristic may be unrelated to the truth
value of his claims: for instance, just because a physics professor
is unfriendly to someone asking him a question does not mean that
his response is inaccurate. There is some evidence that older
children can put aside a preference for someone who is nicer to
recognize the importance of relative expertise (Danovitch & Keil,
2007), but it is important to further examine this issue in future
Summary. There are a number of different informant charac-
teristics that may influence how children and adults evaluate
informant claims, and some of these characteristics may be quite
peripheral to an informant’s ability to provide an accurate, trust-
worthy claim. Studies presenting children with multiple cues to
determine how they are weighing them should provide better
understanding of which cues are understood in a sophisticated
manner very early in development and which cues are not under-
stood until later, perhaps even adulthood.
The What: What Are the Characteristics of the
Research examining selective trust has involved testimony re-
garding a number of different topics, from the contents of a box or
the name of a novel object to the answer to a question requiring
expertise or a decision about the outcome of an event that requires
interpretation. More systematic examination of the characteristics
of the testimony is required if developmental change and stability
in evaluating information are to be better understood.
Degree of inaccuracy or bizarreness. Many of the paradigms
used to examine children’s trust in testimony involve two infor-
mants providing conflicting claims or actions, with one being
somehow bizarre (e.g., calling a brush a plate; using one’s head to
turn on a light that can be more easily turned on with one’s hands).
In these studies, neither the experimenter nor the other informants
react to such bizarre claims and actions, even though presumably,
in real life, bystanders would show some indication of surprise,
befuddlement, or doubt. This may be problematic, given that
4-year-olds have been found to be sensitive to bystander attention
and other nonverbal cues (Chudek, Heller, Birch, & Henrich,
2012; Fusaro & Harris, 2008) as well as majority agreement
(Corriveau, Fusaro, & Harris, 2009) when determining whether to
trust a claim.
As noted by Lucas and Lewis (2010), being able to avoid claims
made by informants that are acting in a bizarre manner or are
clearly incompetent is certainly a useful ability. But it is also
important to recognize that the ability to discount bizarre claims
may require different skills than the ability to discount more subtly
inaccurate claims, which may be closer to what happens in every-
day life. Thus, this is additional support for the possibility that
prior research may overestimate young children’s ability to dem-
onstrate selective trust.
Domain of the testimony. Connected to ideas proposed by
Lucas and Lewis (2010), a sophisticated critical stance requires
children to be specific in their judgments of inaccuracy, recogniz-
ing that an informant’s flaws may be domain or situation specific.
For example, just because someone is ignorant about the contents
of a box does not mean she is also ignorant about how to make a
great beef stew, how to solve simple algebraic problems, or how to
explain the intricacies of string theory.
Building on this idea, recent research has begun to examine how
the kind of claim influences children’s decisions regarding who to
trust. Some claims require episodic knowledge, such as knowing
the contents of a box or the characteristics of the person who stole
a cookie from a cookie jar. To accurately obtain this knowledge,
someone needs to have access to this information and to be able to
able to fully attend to it. Other claims require some kind of
semantic knowledge, but the domain of this knowledge can vary
widely. Some knowledge, such as words and general claims such
as “airplanes fly,” may be seen as more generic and universally
known. Other kinds of knowledge, such as the cure for a certain
illness or the name of a specific enzyme, may be seen as more
specialized and less widely known.
In theory, how children weigh different cues regarding infor-
mant trustworthiness should vary depending on the kind of knowl-
edge required to provide an accurate claim. Csibra and Gergely
(2009) suggested that infants and children may be biased to trust
claims related to generic knowledge since that knowledge might be
difficult to acquire on one’s own. In contrast, children may be less
inclined toward automatic trust when it comes to episodic knowl-
edge (e.g., contents of a box) or other kinds of knowledge that they
can normally acquire through their own first-hand experience
(Csibra & Gergely, 2009). This difference may be explained by
many reasons, including the possibility that the connection be-
tween the experiences required to know a certain claim is more
direct for episodic knowledge than for many kinds of semantic
knowledge. Esbensen, Taylor, and Stoess (1997) conducted a
study with preschool-age children who were learning either a new
fact (i.e., a piece of semantic knowledge) or a new behavior (i.e.,
closer to episodic knowledge): they were able to recognize learn-
ing something new when it was behavioral but not when it was
factual. In other words, given that preschool-age children may
have a richer understanding of the link between perception and
episodic knowledge than between other experiences and semantic
knowledge (e.g., Wimmer, Hogrefe, & Perner, 1988), they may
have an easier time detecting reasons to distrust someone for a lack
of episodic knowledge than for a lack of semantic knowledge.
Research examining the conditions under which children excuse
an informant’s past errors provides an important illustration of
how the kind of knowledge required to make an accurate claim
matters. In a line of work involving episodic knowledge, 3- to
5-year-olds were able to excuse past errors resulting from unin-
formative perceptual access regarding the contents of a container
(Nurmsoo & Robinson, 2009a). In contrast, in a line of work
involving semantic knowledge, 3- to 7-year-olds struggled to ex-
cuse past errors about the labels of familiar objects, even if the
speaker had been wearing a blindfold when making the errors
(Nurmsoo & Robinson, 2009b). In other words, children seem
more aware of when to discount claims made by an informant with
good reasons for previously lacking episodic knowledge than one
with good reasons for previously lacking semantic knowledge (at
least in the realm of word learning). It may be that when learning
words, the intuition to doubt informants who have been inaccurate
in the past is so strong that it at times keeps children from
reflecting on the reasons for those inaccuracies, but this is an open
question for future research.
Domain specificity and generalizability. Much is unknown
about how children’s evaluations are influenced by the kind of
knowledge informants have (or do not have). Some have specu-
lated that there may be differences in the generalizations children
make depending on the kind of knowledge an informant has or
lacks. Brosseau-Liard and Birch (2011) found that 4-year-olds
inferred that an informant who had accurately labeled familiar
objects (a type of semantic knowledge) would have knowledge
about the labels for unfamiliar objects (the same domain of se-
mantic knowledge), but they did not draw any conclusions about
whether that informant or someone else would know about which
object was in a box (a type of episodic knowledge). Further, when
4-year-olds were presented with cues regarding both the semantic
and the episodic knowledge of two informants, children were able
to selectively trust the informant with proper episodic knowledge,
even if he had flawed semantic knowledge. This supports the idea
that 4-year-olds do not indiscriminately doubt information from
informants with flaws—to some extent, they are tracking the
relationship between the type of flaw and the type of knowledge
needed to provide accurate claims.
Additional evidence supports differences in inferences made
depending on the kind of knowledge someone has. If an informant
lacks knowledge of something that seems subjective (or perhaps
situation specific), infants do not necessarily treat that as a cue for
current semantic knowledge (Zmyj et al., 2010). In contrast, if an
informant lacks or has some kind of semantic knowledge, children
sometimes make broader generalizations. For instance, 5-year-olds
and, to some extent, 4-year-olds think that an informant who has
correctly labeled objects in the past is more likely to know the
rules for a novel game (Rakoczy, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2009)
and to know words and facts and to engage in prosocial behavior
(Brosseau-Liard & Birch, 2010) than one who has incorrectly
labeled objects. Four- and 5-year-olds also conclude that someone
who knows the causal properties of an object is also likely to know
the name of that object (Sobel & Corriveau, 2010). In other words,
when children are presented with information about an informant’s
knowledge, they sometimes— but not always—infer other kinds of
knowledge and characteristics.
It is also important to note that when thinking about how much
children generalize about whether an informant who is knowledge-
able or incompetent in one domain will be knowledgeable or
incompetent in another, much may depend on the area of expertise.
Evidence suggests that even 6-year-olds (the youngest age studied to
date) believe that some areas of knowledge (e.g., natural sciences) are
harder for people to figure out on their own than others (e.g., psy-
chology; Keil, Lockhart, & Schlegel, 2010). Thus, it may be that
children would make different generalizations regarding someone
incompetent in a difficult domain of knowledge compared with some-
one incompetent in an easier domain of knowledge.
Summary. In moving forward as a field, we need to keep in
mind that while tasks involving episodic knowledge or simple
semantic knowledge may demonstrate early competencies in eval-
uating informant claims, much of what people experience when
they are presented with new claims involves more complex do-
mains of information. Further research is needed to better under-
stand how children evaluate information in different domains.
The Whom: What Are the Characteristics of the Child
(or Adult) Encountering the Claim?
Much of the prior research examining selective trust focuses on
age as the critical factor influencing children’s ability to evaluate
information. Yet it is clear in research with adolescents and adults
that other characteristics held by the person encountering and
evaluating claims are important. Some of these characteristics may
help explain developmental changes in evaluating information,
while others may provide insight into individual differences.
Social cognition. Many changes in how children understand
knowledge and beliefs of others seem clearly connected to changes
in children’s ability to take a critical stance toward information.
Between early and middle childhood, children shift from believing
that all reality is directly knowable and that there is only one right
answer to everything that everyone should have (e.g., not recog-
nizing that others can hold beliefs that are false) to recognizing that
people can hold beliefs that are false. Thus, a 3-year-old may
respond strongly to someone making an incorrect statement, since
such a statement would not match reality, regardless of how many
incorrect statements are made. In contrast, a 4-year-old who has a
better understanding of how beliefs can be incorrect (and thus has
more advanced social cognitive skills) may be more willing to
weigh the level of accuracy when evaluating competing claims.
Indeed, several studies have found a link between social cognitive
skills and the ability to use knowledge that an informant has been
inaccurate or deceptive in the past to evaluate that informant’s
claims (e.g., DiYanni & Kelemen, 2008; Fusaro & Harris, 2008;
Vanderbilt et al., 2011; but see also Pasquini et al., 2007).
Another change seems to occur around age 7, when children
tend to shift from thinking that reality basically copies itself onto
whoever is in the path of that knowledge to understanding the
importance of interpretation on thinking and reasoning (Barquero,
Robinson, & Thomas, 2003; Carpendale & Chandler, 1996; Chan-
dler & Lalonde, 1996). For instance, they understand that two
people could have different trains of thought about the same item
(Eisbach, 2004), and they understand more about unconscious
mental processes (Choe, Keil, & Bloom, 2005; Flavell, Green,
Flavell, & Lin, 1999). They also begin to understand that it is
possible for people to hold different perspectives but for one to be
more right than the others based on evidence and logic (for more
information, see Kuhn, Cheney, & Weinstock, 2000; Wainryb,
Shaw, Langley, Cottam, & Lewis, 2004). These changes seem to
relate to children’s ability to doubt informant claims that may
involve preexisting beliefs or knowledge skewing interpretation,
such as distortion. For instance, children with higher mental-state
reasoning abilities show more sensitivity to the knowledge status
of the interviewer regarding misleading testimony (Evans & Rob-
erts, 2009). There is also some evidence that advanced interpretive
theory of mind skills link to the ability to recognize certain aspects
of persuasive testimony (Grant & Mills, 2011b).
Although it is clear that changes in social cognitive skills may
relate to aspects of how children evaluate information, they do not
tell the whole story. Even young children who cannot pass a false
belief task are still able to discount unreliable sources in some
situations (e.g., Pasquini et al., 2007). At first, this may be a blind
doubt, where children have learned the rules for doubting without
really reflecting on the underlying reasons. Over time, as children
develop a greater sense of how intentions influence people’s
claims and more experience with different kinds of intentions, they
learn new reasons to be prepared for distorted claims. Changes in
interpretive theory of mind (along with other changes) likely help
children understand these different kinds of reasons for distortion.
But, again, just because children understand that distorted claims
are possible does not mean that they can detect them consistently
in action.
Although there seems to be a clear link between social cognition
and the development of a critical stance, this link may be due in
part to other developmental changes during childhood, such as
developments in the brain. And there are also clearly other factors,
both developmental and individual differences, that relate to how
children evaluate information. Some of these other possibilities are
described in the following sections.
Use of prior knowledge to evaluate information. As noted
earlier, children and adults often apply their prior knowledge when
evaluating information. That said, in some cases, children age 3
and younger seem remarkably influenced by the testimony of
others, even when it conflicts with their own knowledge, beliefs,
and expectations. For instance, one set of studies examined how
30-month-olds responded to evidence related to their strongly held
bias that objects would fall straight down even if placed into tubes
that curved downward in different directions (known as the gravity
bias; e.g., Hood, 1995). Although children tended to hold this bias,
their judgments were shaped fairly easily by the testimony of
others (Jaswal, 2010). In another set of studies, children watched
through a window as an adult put a toy in one of three boxes. The
adult then returned and falsely claimed that the toy was in a
different box from the one in which the child had observed the
adult place the toy. Three-year-olds were frequently misled by the
adult’s false testimony even though it conflicted with their direct
observation (Ma & Ganea, 2010). In another study, 3-year-olds
were willing to copy a model’s tool use if the informant made it
clear that the tool was “made” to do something, even when the
tool’s affordances suggested other behaviors would be appropriate
(DiYanni & Kelemen, 2008). Understanding more about the con-
ditions under which children successfully use their prior knowl-
edge to evaluate claims—as well as the conditions under which
they do not—should be useful.
Detecting flaws in the messages themselves. Related to prior
knowledge is someone’s skill set for evaluating messages them-
selves. At times, people can detect logical flaws in the messages
themselves, even without much relevant background knowledge.
Preschoolers have some sensitivity to some of Grice’s (1975)
conversational maxims, preferring to accept claims made by in-
formants providing relevant information (as opposed to irrelevant).
They also have some awareness of the distinction between some-
one providing the right quantity of information and someone
providing too little (e.g., saying an object is hidden in a cup as
opposed to specifying the cup; Eskritt, Whalen, & Lee, 2008).
As children grow older, they are more capable of evaluating
claims based on logic and consistencies in the claims themselves
(e.g., Morris & Hasson, 2010; Ruffman, 1999; Samarapungavan,
1992). For instance, 6-year-olds distinguish long noncircular expla-
nations from short circular ones, and 8-year-olds distinguish long
noncircular explanations from long circular ones (at least in familiar
domains; Baum, Danovitch, & Keil, 2008). That said, there are age
differences that depend on the questions asked and the complexity of
the domains involved (e.g., Markman, 1979). Using a more diverse
set of domains and assessing children’s background knowledge
should provide more information on whether and when children can
even detect flaws in informant claims, which is essential for demon-
strating appropriate selective trust.
Relevance of claim to the child. In evaluating claims, adults
process more carefully those claims that affect themselves (e.g.,
Hasson et al., 2005; Petty & Cacioppo, 1990; Sperber et al., 2010).
This may be true of young children as well. For instance, although
3-year-olds have previously not seemed to understand what it
means to be “fair,” they seem to recognize that something is unfair
when it directly harms them (while showing little concern
about fairness when it benefits them; LoBue, Nishida, Chiong,
DeLoache, & Haidt, 2011). This suggests that when claims directly
influence children, they will be more cautious in how they evaluate
them, more carefully weighing informant characteristics to deter-
mine whom to trust.
Claim relevance may be most important when there are limited
resources available to process information. In adults, this happens
under conditions of cognitive load (e.g., Smith & DeCoster, 2000).
Since children already are at a disadvantage compared with adults
in terms of mental resources available to process information,
claim relevance may be even more important for them.
Motivation to think deeply. Some individuals have a high
tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activity, while
others would like to avoid thinking and reflecting at all costs.
Known as the need for cognition (Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein, &
Jarvis, 1996), this individual difference measure has been studied
in depth with adults and found to be quite relevant to how they
evaluate the things they experience (e.g., Fletcher, Danilovics,
Fernandez, Peterson, & Reeder, 1986; Verplanken, Hazenberg, &
Palene´wen, 1992). For instance, there is evidence that adults who
demonstrate high need for cognition are better at coping with
persuasive testimony (e.g., Cacioppo et al., 1996) and are better at
attending to both verbal and nonverbal cues (as opposed to only
nonverbal) when attempting to detect lies (Reinhard, 2010). It is
important to note that the need for cognition is not merely an
intellectual ability: it is a motivational one, and thus while it relates
modestly to intelligence in some studies, it is a separate construct
(e.g., Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994). Cacioppo and his colleagues
(1996) hypothesized the following:
Children who learn, through observation and experience, that they can
cope with their problems through reason and verbal influence rather
than through physical force or flight should tend to develop higher
levels of need for cognition because of the demonstrated import of
good problem-solving skills and habits in charting a course through
the hazards of life. (p. 246)
Yet very little is known about the development of the need for
cognition: 10-year-olds are the youngest age studied to date (Ko-
kis, Macpherson, Toplak, West, & Stanovich, 2002), and the vast
majority of studies have focused on high school-age students and
adults. Need for cognition and other individual differences in
thinking disposition (e.g., actively open-minded thinking; Stanov-
ich & West, 2008) may play an important role in children’s success
at taking a critical stance toward information.
Summary. The preceding list of characteristics is by no
means comprehensive. A number of other factors likely influence
how children evaluate information, including culture (e.g., Cal-
lanan, 2006; Heyman, Fu, & Lee, 2007), general trust beliefs (e.g.,
Rotenberg, Boulton, & Fox, 2005), executive functioning skills
(e.g., Evans & Lee, 2011), scientific reasoning ability (e.g., Kuhn
& Crowell, 2011; Kuhn & Pease, 2008; Kuhn, Pease, & Wirkala,
2009), optimism (e.g., Boseovski, 2010; Boseovski & Lee, 2008;
Grant & Mills, 2011a; Heyman & Giles, 2004; Lockhart, Chang, &
Story, 2002), and attachment style (Corriveau, Harris, Meins, et
al., 2009). Other more general cognitive abilities, such as intelli-
gence and working memory capacity, may also play a role. If
psychologists want to say there are meaningful changes and con-
sistencies in how children and adults evaluate information, then it
is essential to much more thoroughly examine specific character-
istics that relate to how individuals evaluate information.
It is clear that children seem biased toward trusting new claims,
and to some degree, this is justified: most claims they encounter
are likely to be accurate, and most informants do intend to provide
accurate information. But it is also paramount that they take a
critical stance. Over the course of development, children will
encounter misinformation in many forms, from inaccurate claims
to deceptive testimony to manipulative suggestions. The potential
harm from trusting too much varies. Believing in inaccurate or
unsubstantiated claims can lead to a whole host of consequences,
from educational (i.e., missing questions on a test due to treating
Wikipedia as a reliable source) to interpersonal (i.e., getting in an
argument with a classmate due to a rumor) to health-related (i.e.,
making medical decisions based on trusting a questionable Internet
source), and beyond. Exposure to advertising without a critical
perspective (at times even with such perspective) encourages a
desire for those products (e.g., Auty & Lewis, 2004) and greater
levels of materialism (e.g., Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003), even in
children. Thinking about trust more generally, children with very
high trust beliefs (e.g., expecting people to be honest and being
unprepared for the possibility of hurt or manipulation) as well as
very low trust beliefs have been found to be at risk for maladjust-
ment, social exclusion, and other issues (Rotenberg et al., 2005).
Similar findings are seen in adulthood—too much trust as well as
too little can have consequences (e.g., Rotter, 1980).
So the key, then, is to be selectively skeptical: to cautiously
evaluate the information that is encountered, recognizing the con-
ditions under which it is appropriate to doubt instead of trust. Over
the course of development, children gradually develop the ability
to distinguish trustworthy sources from untrustworthy ones, be-
coming more and more capable of taking a critical stance toward
new information. They shift from making binary decisions regard-
ing whom they should doubt based on whether a sign of incom-
petency is present to recognizing that some incompetent infor-
mants are more problematic than others before finally
understanding how intentions and motivations can influence some-
one’s trustworthiness. Yet at any given time, with any given claim,
a number of factors may influence children’s success at evaluating
the claim. They must weigh multiple and sometimes competing
characteristics to determine which informant is likely to provide an
accurate, trustworthy claim. They must reflect on their own back-
ground knowledge and employ logical reasoning skills to reflect
on the content of informant claims. And they must utilize their
strengths and overcome their weaknesses to determine whether it
is reasonable to trust someone.
In attempting to build a model to explain developmental, indi-
vidual, and situational differences in children’s ability to evaluate
information, researchers must keep in mind the question “Who
says what to whom” (Hovland et al., 1953) and be diligent in
asking how much of the critical-thinking behavior that is seen
represents a sophisticated analysis of reasons to trust, and how
much is based on more gut intuitions of characteristics social
psychologists tend to describe as being more peripheral to the issue
at hand. Asking questions regarding the origin of these intuitions
should provide additional insight into reasons for developmental
As psychologists gain a better grasp on what seems to be
changing over the course of development and under what condi-
tions, it will be key to strive for greater ecological validity. How
much of children’s sophistication in evaluating information inside
the lab translates into everyday life situations? Further, presuming
that this ability to know when and how to take a critical stance
toward information is important both inside the lab and out, a
crucial question remains: how can children (and adults) be helped
to be better critical thinkers? Although children sometimes show
remarkable and appropriate skepticism, care must be taken not to
overstate young children’s ability to detect reasons to doubt, as
doing so may inadvertently put them in harm’s way. That said,
children do have a strong desire to fully understand the world
around them (e.g., Gopnik, 1998), being unsatisfied with incom-
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Wellman, 2009; Kemler Nelson, Egan, & Holt, 2004). Thus, even
young children show a clear desire to discover the truth. Future
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Received June 1, 2011
Revision received June 6, 2012
Accepted June 29, 2012
... Nevertheless, as children grow and develop, they increasingly gain independent access to other sources of secondhand information, such as books, Internet resources, and other media (e.g., Danovitch, 2019;McGinty et al., 2006;Noles, Danovitch, & Shafto, 2015). Although extensive research regarding verbal secondhand testimony has established that children use a variety of social and epistemic cues to guide their learning preferences (e.g., Corriveau, Meints, & Harris, 2009;Gelman, 2009;Mills, 2013;Tong et al., 2020), little is known about children's ability to practice epistemic vigilance (Sperber et al., 2010) regarding these other types of secondhand information. In the current study, we explore many children's preference to selectively privilege written information over verbal information. ...
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Research has extensively studied how children epistemically evaluate people as secondhand information sources, but less is known about how they evaluate knowledge artifacts, (nonhuman information sources; e.g., books). Recent studies indicate that many young children prefer to learn from text presented by puppet informants, but little is known as to why they display this preference. Across three studies, we examine factors that may influence the likelihood of text-trust preferences in U.S. children aged 4-6 (n = 234), including the epistemic authority they may assign to puppets, humans, or text; reading ability; and text informant preferences. Results indicate children’s informant preference, but not reading ability or informant type, reliably predict text-trust preferences. Moreover, this preference is associated with inferences about the epistemic authority of text rather than informants regardless of whether children evaluate puppets or humans. Implications for future research questions and methodology examining children’s learning from knowledge artifacts are discussed.
... According to CNT, individuals faced with Knightian uncertainty marshal available information to form a narrative-a causally and temporally structured mental representation that explains this information, generates predictions about the future, and motivates action. To construct these explanatory narratives, people draw upon prior beliefs and lay theories (e.g., Furnham, 1988), causal reasoning abilities (e.g., Lombrozo, 2016;Sloman, 2005), and trusted sources (e.g., Hovland & Weiss, 1951;Mills, 2013;Sperber et al., 2010). Because narratives are causally and temporally extended, they can be projected forward to imagine future events (Beach & Mitchell, 1987). ...
How do people form expectations about the future? We use amateur and expert investors' expectations about financial asset prices to study this question. Three experiments contrast the rational expectations assumption from neoclassical economics (investors forecast according to neoclassical financial theory) against two psychological theories of expectation formation—behaviorally informed expectations (investors understand empirical market anomalies and expect these anomalies to occur) and narrative expectations (investors use narrative thinking to predict future prices). Whereas neoclassical financial theory maintains that past public information cannot be used to predict future prices, participants used company performance information revealed before a base price quotation to project future price trends after that quotation (Experiment 1), contradicting rational expectations. Importantly, these projections were stronger when information concerned predictions about a company's future performance rather than actual data about its past performance, suggesting that people not only rely on financially irrelevant (but narratively relevant) information for making predictions but erroneously impose temporal order on that information. These biased predictions had downstream consequences for asset allocation choices (Experiment 2), and these choices were driven in part by affective reactions to the company performance news (Experiment 3). There were some mild effects of expertise, but overall the effects of narrative appear to be consistent across all levels of expertise studied, including professional financial analysts. We conclude by discussing the prospects for a narrative theory of choice that provide new microfoundational insights about economic behavior.
... L'évaluation des sources est relative à l'expertise, à l'intention et à l'objectivité de l'émetteur d'information (Liu, Vanderbilt, & Heyman, 2013;Mills, 2013;Pasquinelli, Farina, Bedel, & Casati, 2021;Tong, Wang, & Danovitch, 2020). Elle fait référence à de nombreux travaux en épistémologie sociale sur la valeur du témoignage ou sur la vigilance épistémique (Bouvier & Conein, 2007;Sperber et al., 2010). ...
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L’éducation à l’esprit critique des élèves fait aujourd’hui partie intégrante des prescriptions officielles de l’Éducation Nationale française. En parallèle, la formation des enseignants à l’esprit critique se développe dans de nombreuses académies, ce qui pose la question des effets de ces formations, mais également de la manière dont sont formés les enseignants à l’appropriation et à la maîtrise des compétences en lien avec l’esprit critique. Notre recherche s’est d’abord concentrée sur les prescriptions et textes officiels pour comprendre les attendus en matière d’éducation à l’esprit critique. Puis nous avons effectué un travail d’analyse de la littérature scientifique pour établir les bases conceptuelles permettant de définir l’esprit critique, la pensée critique et le penseur critique (Ennis, 2015). Cette analyse nous a permis de dégager des caractéristiques de la pensée critique (connaissances, capacités et dispositions) et des critères d’évaluation pour le penseur critique (fiabilité, confiance). Pour former un penseur critique « efficace », l’intérêt d’utiliser des contenus de types pseudoscientifiques ou « paranormaux » a été évalué par plusieurs travaux (Dyer & Hall, 2018; Wilson, 2018). Nous avons alors testé et mis en évidence 1/ l’effet de la rationalité épistémique sur l’adhésion des enseignants à des croyances non fondées (Adam‐Troian, Caroti, Arciszewski, & Ståhl, 2019) et 2/ l’effet de formations à l’esprit critique pour enseignants s’appuyant sur des contenus et exemples de type pseudoscientifiques ou « paranormaux » sur la réduction de croyances non fondées, et le renforcement de certaines dispositions critiques des enseignants, à savoir la rationalité épistémique et l’humilité épistémique.
... Many researchers claim that from as early as 3 to 4 years old children's selective social learning is the result of sophisticated reasoning about the epistemic competence of others 24,25 , while explanations involving associative accounts reserved for only early forms of selective social learning [26][27][28] . Some of the evidence from the SLSs 9,29 and selective trust [30][31][32] literature suggests that very young children [33][34][35][36] (between 3 and 4 years old) and animals 8,37,38 (e.g., chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys) preferentially learn from knowledgeable individuals (e.g., biases for copying older or more successful others and trusting previously accurate over inaccurate informants). However, these biases are not necessarily driven by explicitly metacognitive SLSs. ...
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To differentiate the use of simple associations from use of explicitly reasoned selective social learning, we can look for age-related changes in children's behaviour that might signify a switch from one social learning strategy to the other. We presented 4-to 8-year-old children visiting a zoo in Scotland (N = 109) with a task in which the perceptual access of two informants was determined by the differing opacity of two screens of similar visual appearance during a hiding event. Initially success could be achieved by forming an association or inferring a rule based on salient visual (but causally irrelevant) cues. However, following a switch in the scenario, success required explicit reasoning about informants' potential to provide valuable information based on their perceptual access. Following the switch, older children were more likely to select a knowledgeable informant. This suggests that some younger children who succeeded in the pre-switch trials had inferred rules or formed associations based on superficial, yet salient, visual cues, whereas older children made the link between perceptual access and the potential to inform. This late development and apparent cognitive challenge are consistent with proposals that such capacities are linked to the distinctiveness of human cumulative culture.
... However, in order to effectively do so, they need to assess which individuals can be trusted to provide reliable information (Harris, 2012). Prior research has documented that although preschool-age children can effectively use a variety of strategies to make these kinds of assessments (Marble & Boseovski, 2020;Mills, 2013), they also have serious limitations Palmquist et al., 2016;Vanderbilt et al., 2014). One notable limitation is that they often readily accept information from individuals who have a track record of deceptive behavior, even when this track record is explicitly pointed out to them (Heyman et al., 2013). ...
Learning from others allows young children to acquire vast amounts of information quickly, but doing so effectively also requires epistemic vigilance. Although preschool-age children have some capacity to engage in such processes, they often have trouble resisting information from misleading informants. The present research takes a novel strategic deception training approach to addressing this limitation. The approach is grounded in theoretical work on children's recognition of self-other equivalences (Meltzoff, 2007) and in the default tendency to view communication as helpful (Mascaro et al., 2017). Eighty 3-year-old Singaporean children (Mage = 39.36 months, 37 girls, 90.0% Chinese) were randomly assigned to either an experimental condition, in which they were trained on strategic deception, or to a conservation training control condition. Findings showed that the strategic deception training was effective in promoting epistemic vigilance on a semantic task that involved object naming and no pointing, although the effect did not extend to performance on an episodic task that involved pointing to object locations. These findings provide the first evidence of a causal link between young children's reasoning about how to deceive others and their resistance to being misled by others. In doing so, they shed light on the mechanisms that come into play when children learn epistemic vigilance. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... However, in contrast with Richter et al.'s (2009) materials (e.g., 'Soft soap is edible'), we selected entirely novel statements, of which participants were unlikely to have 3 The claim that people are rather trusting than not when there is no specific reason to doubt either the content of the message or the reliability of the source is widely held and has been one of the central issues in the epistemology of testimony (Coady, 1973;Lackey and Sosa, 2006;Gelfert, 2014). There exists a wealth of literature in cognitive, developmental, as well as social psychology on epistemic vigilance and trust (Clément et al. 2004;Mascaro & Sperber 2009;Sperber et al. 2010;Harris 2012;Harris & Lane 2013;Mills 2013;Harris et al. 2018), as well as the evaluation of others' reliability (Fiske 2018), and the role of the perceived credibility of sources in the evaluation of argument strength and subsequent revision of belief (Hahn et al. 2009). prior knowledge (like Gilbert et al.'s materials). ...
Most of the claims we encounter in real life can be assigned some degree of plausibility, even if they are new to us. On Gilbert's (1991) influential account of belief formation, whereby understanding a sentence implies representing it as true, all new propositions are initially accepted, before any assessment of their veracity. As a result, plausibility cannot have any role in initial belief formation on this account. In order to isolate belief formation experimentally, Gilbert, Krull, and Malone (1990) employed a dual-task design: if a secondary task disrupts participants' evaluation of novel claims presented to them, then the initial encoding should be all there is, and if that initial encoding consistently renders claims ‘true’ (even where participants were told in the learning phase that the claims they had seen were false), then Gilbert's account is confirmed. In this pre-registered study, we replicate one of Gilbert et al.'s (1990) seminal studies (“The Hopi Language Experiment”) while additionally introducing a plausibility variable. Our results show that Gilbert's ‘truth bias' does not hold for implausible statements — instead, initial encoding seemingly renders implausible statements ‘false’. As alternative explanations of this finding that would be compatible with Gilbert's account can be ruled out, it questions Gilbert's account.
Children are constantly faced with challenges. They need to learn to persist but also to disengage from (still) unsolvable or too resource-consuming tasks. We examined the role of observing parental behavior in a challenging task for children’s goal regulation behavior in the same task (modeling effect) and its transfer to another type of task (transfer effect). Goal regulation behavior was expressed as the number of task switches within the same type of task, with more task switches indicating increasingly disengaging behavior. In a correlational study (N = 42, Mage = 9.0 years, SD = 0.8) and an experimental study (N = 66, Mage = 9.2 years, SD = 1.4), children imitated their parents’ behavior in the same type of task. Moreover, they generalized this behavior to another type of task when experiencing difficulties in goal pursuit in the correlational study as well as in the engagement condition of the experimental study, but not in the disengagement condition. The results suggest that children imitate and generalize their parents’ persistent behavior but only selectively imitate their disengagement behavior.
Children use informant characteristics, such as competence or benevolence, in trust judgment. Previous studies have examined the characteristics that children prioritize in trust judgment, but findings have been conflicting. Since people possess and tap into each characteristic in their daily lives as the situation demands, children may adjust the characteristics that they choose to rely on depending on the specific situation rather than always prioritizing either of the characteristics. Thus, the present study investigated children's trust judgment in different situations requiring either competence or benevolence. Additionally, children's preference for competence or benevolence was examined to explore its effect on trust judgment. Results showed that children were more likely to select a competent rather than a benevolent person in situations requiring competence and vice versa in situations requiring benevolence. Children preferred the benevolent person rather than the competent person; such preference did not appear to affect their selection of informants across various situations. In summary, children might focus on the different characteristics of the informant in accordance with the situation. Their preference for benevolence might relate to a preference for prosociality. This, in turn, could relate to enhanced sensitivity to benevolence in early childhood.
When relying on the advice of others in decision making, one must consider the fact that advice-givers may vary in terms of predictive accuracy, that is, their history of being correct. We investigated 5- and 6-year-olds’ competence in weighting advice in decision making according to predictive accuracy. Contrary to previous child decision research that draws a rather cautious picture on preschoolers’ weighting competence, we created a child-friendly decision paradigm with an everyday context based on preparatory studies (e.g., observational study in daycare). In the role of the main character of an illustrated, interactive children’s book, participants made a series of multiple-cue inference decisions during a daycare day. In each decision, they could ask for advice regarding two decision options from two advice-givers who differed in terms of predictive accuracy (p = .17 vs. p = .83). Contrary to previous findings in child decision research, many preschoolers prioritized the advice of the more accurate advice-giver and systematically used predictive accuracy as a decision weight for their choices in an everyday context. At the same time, preschoolers displayed difficulty in focusing their information search and often unnecessarily asked the less accurate advice-giver. We present our findings with respect to two contradictory research fields: child decision-making research and trust-in-informants research. Implications for decision-making theories are discussed.
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Children’s inferences about people’s knowledge and epistemic trustworthiness can be swayed by seemingly unimportant qualities, such as their personality traits or appearance. Very little is known about how children reason about the minds and statements of persons with disabilities. In this study, we examined children’s inferences about the knowledge and epistemic trustworthiness of people who had physical or auditory disabilities; disabilities that had no actual bearing on the quality of their visually-derived knowledge or claims. U.S. children ages 3.00-6.99 years (N = 76) were presented with scenarios in which a character who was disabled looked inside a box and another character who was typically-developing simply held that same box (without looking inside). Children were asked who knew what was inside the box. Then, the two characters made contrasting claims about what object the box contained, and children were asked to endorse one of the characters’ claims. Regardless of characters’ abilities, children across the age-range were significantly more likely to attribute knowledge to characters who had seen inside the boxes. This pattern was found even among the youngest participants (3-year-olds), and became more pronounced with age. As well, across the entire age range, children’s trust in informants’ claims did not differ depending upon characters’ disabilities. By 4.5 years, children preferred claims provided by characters who had seen the boxes’ contents, and this pattern, too, became more pronounced with age. Thus, children’s attributions of knowledge and trustworthiness to persons were not swayed if they possessed an irrelevant physical or perceptual disability.
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In a recent meta-analysis, Johnson and Eagly (1989) questioned our conceptualization of and evidence for the effects of involvement on persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979, 1986). In particular, they concluded that (a) what we had termed issue involvement represented two distinct types of involvement (outcome- versus value-relevant), (b) each type of involvement had unique effects on persuasion, and (c) outcome involvement effects may be obtained only by 1 group of researchers. We argue that although 2 distinct research traditions of involvement have emerged, our original position that the 2 categories of involvement induce similar processes in persuasion situations remains viable. Evidence from Johnson and Eagly's meta-analysis shows that as both types of involvement increase, argument quality becomes a more important determinant of attitudes. The greater message rejection found with involvement in value as compared with outcome studies can be explained in terms of confounding factors. Finally, we note that the outcome involvement effects that we reported initially have been replicated by other investigators, including Johnson and Eagly.
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Evaluative processes refer to the operations by which organisms discriminate threatening from nurturant environments. Low activation of positive and negative evaluative processes by a stimulus reflects neutrality, whereas high activation of such processes reflects maximal conflict. Attitudes, an important class of manifestations of evaluative processes, have traditionally been conceptualized as falling along a bipolar dimension, and the positive and negative evaluative processes underlying attitudes have been conceptualized as being reciprocally activated, making the bipolar rating scale the measure of choice. Research is reviewed suggesting that this bipolar dimension is insufficient to portray comprehensively positive and negative evaluative processes and that the question is not whether such processes are reciprocally activated but under what conditions they are reciprocally, nonreciprocally, or independently activated. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
People feel they understand complex phenomena with far greater precision, coherence, and depth than they really do; they are subject to an illusion-an illusion of explanatory depth. The illusion is far stronger for explanatory knowledge than many other kinds of knowledge, such as that for facts, procedures or narratives. The illusion for explanatory knowledge is most robust where the environment supports real-time explanations with visible mechanisms. We demonstrate the illusion of depth with explanatory knowledge in Studies 1-6. Then we show differences in overconfidence about knowledge across different knowledge domains in Studies 7-10. Finally, we explore the mechanisms behind the initial confidence and behind overconfidence in Studies 11 and 12, and discuss the implications of our findings for the roles of intuitive theories in concepts and cognition. © 2002 Leonid Rozenblit. Published by Cognitive Science Society, Inc. All rights reserved.