Growing children pick-up things and learn from what people tell them while trying to fathom who is an accurate source of information. By the time children are 4 years old, they start observing whether a person is genuinely well informed or if he/she is just repeating what someone else is saying, according to a new study that will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.
Previous studies reveal that even 3-year-olds take note of whether someone is a reliable source of information, so that they go back to the same person for more answers. However, Shiri Einav of Oxford Brookes University in the UK thinks there could be more to this puzzle! She says, “If you give a correct response it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re knowledgeable. You could be accurate because you asked someone else for help or you could be accurate by a complete fluke.”
Einav and her coauthor, Elizabeth Robinson of Warwick University, embarked upon establishing whether kids consider the reasons for someone’s accuracy while trying to assess their reliability.
The authors used a combination of a teddy bear and puppets for their study in children. Each puppet was assigned with a task of identifying a picture of an elephant, cow, or rabbit that was demonstrated by the children. Although both puppets identified the animals correctly, one puppet knew all the answers independently and the other puppet relied on Teddy’s knowledge. Subsequently, Teddy was eliminated to avoid assisting the puppets, and children were presented with a picture of an unknown animal (mongoose) so that they could identify which puppet could provide then with the correct answer.
Although three-year-olds chose both puppets (the one who knew the answers and the one who relied on answers), four- and five-year-olds were more selective with their choice. They seemed to have more conviction in the puppet who knew the answers independently rather than relying on the puppet that was dependent on Teddy. Einav says, “We think it’s important that from the age of around four, children are being sophisticated in a way that people hadn’t really shown before. They’re able to distinguish someone who’s truly knowledgeable from someone who’s given them a right answer but doesn’t necessarily deserve long-term trust.”
Children explore this ability to look for people who can prove to be beneficial with their learning.