Children's use of social consensus as a cue to reliability

In everyday life, people must continually weigh up the reliability of new information that is presented to them by others in order to avoid being led astray by false claims (e.g., mistakes, lies). This task is particularly crucial in development as children's knowledge acquisition depends heavily on information that they receive from others. In general, adults recognise that testimony that is independently endorsed by several people is more reliable than the potentially idiosyncratic or false belief of an individual.

In this study, we investigated whether children make use of this 'social consensus' cue and how this awareness develops between the ages of 3, 4 and 5 years of age.

Our results show that by around 4 years, children's selective trust in others extends beyond simply generalizing on the basis of informants' prior accuracy to take into account how that accuracy was achieved. When faced with two accurate informants, 4-year-olds preferred to seek and endorse novel information from the informant whose previous answers were self-generated rather than one who had relied on help from a third party. Although 3-year-olds could remember which informant received help, they did not make use of that when deciding which puppet could independently provide them with new information, in line with evidence showing limited source monitoring skills at this age.

This study was conducted by Dr. Shiri Einav.