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Keywords:

  • Deception;
  • Trust (social behavior);
  • Interpersonal communication;
  • Early-childhood development;
  • Cognitive development;
  • Informants;
  • Social cognition

Abstract

The ability of 3- and 4-year-old children to disregard advice from an overtly misleading informant was investigated across five studies (total = 212). Previous studies have documented limitations in young children's ability to reject misleading advice. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that these limitations are primarily due to an inability to reject specific directions that are provided by others, rather than an inability to respond in a way that is opposite to what has been indicated by a cue. In Studies 1 through 4, a puppet identified as The Big Bad Wolf offered advice to participants about which of two boxes contained a hidden sticker. Regardless of the form the advice took, 3-year olds performed poorly by failing to systematically reject it. However, when participants in Study 5 believed they were responding to a mechanical cue rather than the advice of the Wolf, they were better able to reject misleading advice, and individual differences in performance on the primary task were systematically correlated with measures of executive function. Results are interpreted as providing support for the communicative intent hypothesis, which posits that children find it especially difficult to reject deceptive information that they perceive as being intentionally communicated by others.