UBC Theses and Dissertations
Developing a sense of certainty Baer, Carolyn Elizabeth
In a noisy world filled with confusion, humans need a toolkit of skills to help discern fact from fiction. In this dissertation, I explore one such tool and its development in childhood: metacognitive reasoning about confidence. In 7 studies, I investigate how children reason about the strength of subjective information, uncovering the properties of childhood metacognition and using its development as a tool to learn about metacognition more broadly. Fueling this research are two families of theoretical accounts: one which conceptualizes confidence as a direct readout of decision noise (Direct accounts), and one where confidence is a combination of information from multiple sources (Inferential accounts). These two accounts make divergent predictions about two properties of metacognition: (1) how tightly bound confidence is to the underlying decisions it evaluates, and (2) how broadly is confidence represented in the mind. I investigate these questions using a developmental lens for testing between these theories. These studies present a force-choice method of measuring children’s sensitivity to confidence by asking how closely they can tell apart two states of confidence. This method of assessing confidence allows me to narrow in on the properties of metacognition that develop independently of children’s overconfidence biases and developing linguistic knowledge. In Chapter 2, I use this measure to look for developmental change associated with confidence judgments when controlling for decision noise, finding age-related change consistent with the Inferential accounts. In Chapter 3, I test whether children reason about confidence using encapsulated systems or a broader metacognitive system, and probe whether these judgments share a unit of representation, finding evidence for both within the domain of perceptual judgments as predicted again by Inferential accounts. In Chapter 4, I investigate whether confidence is processed so broadly as to include reasoning about others’ abilities, but do not find strong evidence of this, suggesting a limit on the generality of confidence processing. All together, this dissertation shows that far from being subject to the whims of others, children possess a sense of confidence that combines multiple sources in information to create broadly-usable assessments of truth in the world.
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