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Preschool children's interpretation of others' history of accuracy Brosseau-Liard, Patricia Elisabeth

Abstract

Over the past 25 years, there has been tremendous interest in the development of children’s ability to reason about others’ mental states, or “theory of mind”. Much research has explored children's understanding of situational cues that lead to knowledge, but only recently has research begun to assess children's understanding of person-specific differences in knowledge. A number of studies (Birch, Vauthier & Bloom, 2008; Jaswal & Neely, 2006; Koenig, Clément & Harris, 2004) have recently demonstrated that at least by age 3 children pay attention to others' history of accuracy and use it as a cue when deciding from whom to learn. However, the nature and scope of children's interpretations of other's prior accuracy remains unclear. Experiment 1 assessed whether 4- and 5-year-olds interpret prior accuracy as indicative of knowledge, as opposed to two other accounts that do not involve epistemic attributions. This experiment revealed that preschool children can revise their tendency to prefer to learn from a previously accurate informant over an inaccurate one when presented with evidence regarding each informant's current knowledge state. Experiment 2 investigated how broadly a person's history of accuracy influences children's subsequent inferences, and showed that 5-year-olds (but not 4-year-olds) use information about an individual's past accuracy to predict her knowledge in other related domains as well as her propensity for prosocial or antisocial behaviour. Overall, children's performance in these experiments suggests that both 4- and 5-year-olds interpret others' history of accuracy as indicative of knowledge; however, 4-year-olds make a more restricted attribution of knowledge while 5-year-olds make a more stable, trait-like attribution. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for research on theory of mind and more broadly on children's social and cognitive development.

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