Children are notorious for asking questions about the world around them, but with limited means of accessing the answers, they must rely on others to answer their questions.
On one hand, people often think that children believe everything they hear is true—like when they are told to brush their teeth every night or else, their teeth will fall out like their grandfather’s did.
However, recent research has shown that young children are not always so gullible. Rather, they evaluate an individual’s prior behavior to judge whether they are a trustworthy source of information.
Using previously developed methods, this video demonstrates a simple approach for how to design and conduct an experiment measuring young children’s trust, as well as how to analyze and interpret results regarding choices made based on conflicting sources of information.
In this experiment, young children—ages 3 to 4—are asked to label objects based on conflicting information from two different characters, in this case, hand puppets.
The two, male puppets with different facial features and clothing are introduced to children, as Ben and Tom.
During the first phase of the task, the history phase, one puppet labels four common objects accurately, whereas the other labels them all inaccurately.
Next, in the test phase, children are shown three sets of two novel and unusual objects, followed by conflicting information from the puppets about the objects’ names.
For example, Ben looks at the first item and calls it a blicket, while Tom looks at the second one and also calls it a blicket. The child is then asked to choose which item is the blicket. Note that for the remaining two sets of objects, two different words—truly and modi—are used by Ben and Tom.
Finally, in the confirmation phase, each child is asked to label the original common objects that were presented during the history phase to confirm that they were familiar with all of the items.
Here, the dependent variable is the number of times children choose the object that the accurate puppet named during three different trials in the test phase.
Three- and four-year-old children are expected to choose the objects labelled by the accurate puppet more often than the inaccurate puppet.
Before the experiment begins, obtain two physically distinct, male hand puppets, as well as four common objects: a toy car, spoon, ball, and cup. Also, obtain six novel and unusual household items, such as parts of a toy, bag clips, or felt floor pads.
After greeting the child, begin by introducing them to each puppet in first person. “Hi, I’m Ben. What’s your name?”; “Hi, I’m Tom. What’s your name?”
During the first history phase, set the four common objects on the table in front of the child. Counterbalance which puppet names the objects accurately and inaccurately across children; here, first have Ben label each of the objects correctly, and Tom label them incorrectly.
For each trial of the test phase, place a pair of novel objects on the table, counterbalanced across positions. Pick up one of the objects, and ask Ben what it is. In this trial, have him label it a blicket, “I think that is a blicket. Yes, that is a blicket” and place the object back on the table.
Then, pick up the other novel object and ask Tom what it is. Have Tom also label it a blicket. “I think that is a blicket. Yes, that is a blicket.”
After removing the puppets, close your eyes, hold out both hands, and ask the child to give you the blicket. Note the child’s choice.
Finally, for the confirmation phase, place the four common objects back on the table in front of the child. Ask the child to label each object and record their responses.
Once the study is finished, calculate the number of correct responses from the confirmation phase. To proceed with data analysis, only include children who performed well in the final naming phase to ensure that they recognized the objects and that the puppets differed in accuracy.
For each child, assign a score of 0-3, based on how many times they chose the object that the accurate puppet named in the test phase. Convert these scores to percentages.
To analyze the data, perform t-tests to determine if any differences exist between age groups or against chance levels.
Note that there were no differences between age groups. Furthermore, each group chose the objects labeled by the accurate puppet at rates significantly higher than chance levels, suggesting that even young children can use observations of prior accuracy to make judgements about trustworthiness, even when unfamiliar objects were named.
Now that you are familiar with designing a psychology experiment to demonstrate that children as young as 3 show selective trust in information sources, let’s look at how children learn about a wide range of topics from others.
In fields such as science, there are many facts that children cannot observe directly, like: There is oxygen in the air. Therefore, they must rely on the testimony of teachers and other adults to learn new information.
In addition, when children are in search of information on different topics, like what is DNA?, they are more likely to direct questions to an adult who had been previously knowledgeable. They also understand that some people are experts on certain topics, but not others.
You’ve just watched JoVE’s introduction to measuring children’s trust. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design and conduct the experiment, and finally how to analyze and interpret the results.
Thanks for watching!