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Informants' Traits Weigh Heavily in Young Children's Trust in Testimony and in Their Epistemic Inferences


  • Funding for this research was provided by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant HD022149 to Henry Wellman and by Rackham School of Graduate Studies Research Grant to Jonathan Lane. We are very grateful to the children and parents who participated in this study and to the administration, teachers, and staff at the University of Michigan Children's Centers and Go Like the Wind Montessori School. We appreciate Becca Leider for her help interviewing children, and Daniel Blumer, Jennifer Elledge, and Amanda Nagrotsky for their help entering and checking data. The manuscript benefited from feedback provided by Vikram Jaswal and other members of International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course, and benefited from comments and suggestions provided by four anonymous reviewers. A portion of this research was presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, May 2010.


This study examined how informants' traits affect how children seek information, trust testimony, and make inferences about informants' knowledge. Eighty-one 3- to 6-year-olds and 26 adults completed tasks where they requested and endorsed information provided by one of two informants with conflicting traits (e.g., honesty vs. dishonesty). Participants also completed tasks where they simultaneously considered informants' traits and visual access to information when inferring their knowledge and trusting their testimony. Children and adults preferred to ask and endorse information provided by people who are nice, smart, and honest. Moreover, these traits influenced the knowledge that young children attributed to informants. Children younger than 5 years of age reported that people with positive traits were knowledgeable even when they lacked access to relevant information.