Young children evaluate and follow others’ arguments when forming and revising beliefs

Hannes Rakoczy*, Nadja Miosga, Thomas Schultze

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

What do young children understand about arguments? Do they evaluate arguments critically when deciding whom to learn from? To address this question, we investigated children at age 4–5, when robust selective social learning is in place. In Studies 1a/b, children made an initial perceptual judgment regarding the location of an object under varying perceptual circumstances; then received advice by another informant who had better/worse perceptual access than them; and then made their final judgment. The advice by the other informant was sometimes accompanied by utterances of the form “I am certain … because I've seen it”. These utterances thus constituted good arguments in some conditions (informant could see clearly), but not in others (informant had poor perceptual access). Results showed that children evaluated argument quality in context-sensitive ways and used them differentially for belief-revision. They engaged in more belief-revision when the informant gave this argument only when her perceptual condition, and thus her argument, was good. In Study 2, children were asked to find out about different properties (color/texture) of an object, and received conflicting testimony from two informants who supported their claims by utterances of the form “because I've seen it” (good argument regarding color/poor regarding texture) or “because I've felt it” (vice versa). Again, children engaged in context-relative evaluation of argument quality, selectively learning from the agent with the appropriate argument. Taken together, these finding reveal that children from age 4 understand argument quality in sophisticated, context-relative ways, and use this understanding for selective learning and belief-revision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-164
Number of pages18
JournalSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Volume31
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the German Science Foundation (grant for the Research Training Group 2070 “Understanding Social Relationships”). We would like to thank Stefan Schulz‐Hardt for support, cooperation and feedback, and Marlen Kaufmann, Konstanze Schirmer, Marika Reimer, Ariane Bodemeyer, Josefin Johannsen, Lisa Wenzel, Sophia Wild, and Johanna Andratschke for help with recruitment and data collection. We are grateful to Franziska Brugger, Marina Proft, Britta Schünemann, Friederike Schütte, and Lisa Wenzel for helpful discussion and feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Social Development published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Keywords

  • argumentation
  • belief-revision
  • selective trust
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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