Source: Laboratories of Judith Danovitch and Nicholaus Noles—University of Louisville
How does a person learn about the world around them? One way is through direct observation and exploration. However, not every piece of information can be observed firsthand. Instead, a person must often rely on other people as information sources. This is particularly true for children who have so many questions about the world around them, yet have limited means of accessing the answers. Thus, children must rely on other people to provide answers to their questions.
There is a popular viewpoint that children are gullible and that they believe everything they hear. However, recent research has shown this is not the case. Children as young as age 3 evaluate what other people say and show selective trust in other people’s testimony. Children pay attention to and use their knowledge about an individual’s prior behavior and characteristics to judge whether that individual is a trustworthy informational source.
This video demonstrates how to measure children’s trust in testimony based on methods developed by Birch, Vauthier, and Bloom1 and Koenig, Clement, and Harris.2
Recruit 3- and 4-year-old children who have normal vision and hearing. For the purposes of this demonstration, only one child is tested. Larger sample sizes are recommended when conducting any experiments.
1. Gather the necessary materials.
- Obtain two hand puppets clearly distinguishable from each other. In this demonstration, use two male puppets with different facial features and clothing.
- Gather four common objects familiar to young children. In this demonstration, use a car, a spoon, a ball, and a cup.
- Obtain six novel objects not familiar to young children.
2. Data collection
- Introduce the child to the puppets by saying, “I brought a bunch of fun things with me today, and I also brought two puppet friends: Ben and Tom.”
- Introduce each puppet to the child by acting as the puppet and saying: “Hi, I’m Ben/Tom. What’s your name? [Child responds.] Nice to meet you, [child’s name].”
- History phase
- Set the four common objects on the table in front of the child and say: “Let’s show these things to Ben and Tom. We’ll let them talk now, and we can watch and listen.”
- Have each puppet label each of the objects.
- Have one puppet label all four objects correctly. For example, for the ball, the puppet says: “I think that’s a ball. Yes, that’s a ball.”
- Have the other puppet label all four objects incorrectly. For example, for the ball, the puppet says: “I think that’s a horse. Yes, that’s a horse.”
- Make sure that Ben always goes first. For half of the children, Ben is the accurate puppet, and for the other half, Ben is the inaccurate puppet.
- Test phase
- In this phase, present a pair of novel objects to the children, followed by conflicting information about the objects’ labels.
- Place two novel objects on the table.
- Turn to one puppet (Ben) and say: “Look, Ben. What’s this?” and pick up one of the objects. Have the puppet respond: “I think that’s a blicket. Yes, that’s blicket. Do you see the blicket?” and look at the child. Place the object back on the table.
- Turn to the other puppet (Tom) and repeat the question, while picking up the other novel object. Have the puppet respond in the same way as before, labeling it a blicket. Place the object back on the table.
- Put down the puppets, and then the experimenter closes their eyes, holds out their hands, and asks the child: “Can you give me the blicket?” Note which object the child chooses.
- Repeat this procedure two more times with different sets of objects and different words (“truly” and “modi”).
- Counterbalance the specific objects named by each puppet between subjects.
- Confirmation phase
- In order to confirm that children were familiar with the objects used in the history phase, place the four common objects from the history phase on the table again and ask the children, “What is this?” Record the responses.
- First, calculate the number of correct responses children provide in the confirmation phase. Exclude the children who perform poorly in this phase from further analysis, as they would not have recognized that the puppets differed in accuracy.
- Calculate a score of 0-3 based on how many times the children chose the object that the accurate puppet named in the test phase. For the purpose of discussing and illustrating the results, convert these scores to percentages out of 100.
- Compare the children’s scores on the test phase to chance (score of 1.5) using a one-sample t-test.
- Compare the children’s scores across age groups using an independent-samples t-test.
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!
Researchers tested 20 3-year-old and 20 4-year-old children and found that children showed greater trust in the accurate puppet. Children were 100% accurate naming the familiar objects in the confirmation phase, suggesting they were capable of recognizing which puppet had been accurate in the history phase. The researchers found that children in both age groups chose the objects labeled by the accurate puppet at rates significantly higher than chance (75% of the time for 3-year-olds and 70% of the time for 4-year-olds; Figure 1). There were also no differences between 3- and 4-year-olds, suggesting that children in both age groups could use their observations of the puppet’s prior accuracy to make judgments about which puppet was reliable, even when the puppets were naming unfamiliar objects.
Figure 1: Mean percentage of trials where children chose the object labeled by the individual who was previously accurate at labeling familiar objects.
Applications and Summary
The finding that children as young as age 3 show selective trust in information sources has important implications for how children learn about a wide range of topics. For example, when learning about the concepts underlying scientific fields, such as chemistry and biology, children typically cannot observe facts, like “There is oxygen in the air” or “Living things contain DNA,” themselves. Instead, they must rely on the testimony of other people, such as parents and teachers, and determine whether the information they receive is likely to be accurate. The same is true for learning concepts related to history (e.g., George Washington was the first president) or religion (e.g., God created the earth). The research on children’s trust suggests that, on the one hand, children as young as 3-years-old are capable of learning from more knowledgeable individuals, yet on the other hand, they keep track of how accurate the individual providing the information is likely to be and do not believe everything they hear.
Research has found that young children are also capable of making judgments about where to seek out information about different topics. They are more likely to direct questions to a previously knowledgeable individual3, and they understand that some people are experts on certain topics but not others.4 Children can think critically about information sources and where to find the answers to their questions, and they have a grasp of how knowledge is organized in other people’s minds well before they begin their formal education. Educators and parents can capitalize on children’s intuitive understanding of knowledge and expertise by providing consistently accurate information. They can also help further children’s understanding by talking to them about what makes information trustworthy or not.
- Birch, S. A., Vauthier, S. A., & Bloom, P. Three- and four-year-olds spontaneously use others’ past performance to guide their learning. Cognition. 107, 1018–1034 (2008).
- Koenig, M. A., Clément, F., & Harris, P. L. Trust in testimony: Children’s use of true and false statements. Psychological Science. 15, 694–698 (2004).
- Koenig, M. A., & Harris, P. L. Preschoolers mistrust ignorant and inaccurate speakers. Child Development. 76 (6), 1261-1277 (2005).
- Lutz, D. J., & Keil, F. C. Early understanding of the division of cognitive labor. Child Development. 73 (4), 1073-1084 (2002).