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Preschoolers Mistrust Ignorant and Inaccurate Speakers


  • Support for this research was provided by NICHD grant F32 HD42860 to the first author. Special thanks to Paul Bloom, Fabrice Clément, Marc Hauser, and Itai Sher for helpful discussions and feedback on earlier presentations of the work. We also thank Suzanne Duke, Kathleen Corriveau, Wendy Mages, and Elisabeth Pasquini for help with the experimental stimuli as well as the children, parents, teachers, and staff of Newtowne Preschool, Soldier's Field Child Care Center, Auburndale Preschool, Botanical Gardens Child Care Center, and Somerville's Early Head Start Program.

concerning this article should be addressed to Melissa A. Koenig, 201 Green Hall, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago 5848 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. Electronic mail may be sent to


Being able to evaluate the accuracy of an informant is essential to communication. Three experiments explored preschoolers' (N=119) understanding that, in cases of conflict, information from reliable informants is preferable to information from unreliable informants. In Experiment 1, children were presented with previously accurate and inaccurate informants who presented conflicting names for novel objects. 4-year-olds—but not 3-year-olds—predicted whether an informant would be accurate in the future, sought, and endorsed information from the accurate over the inaccurate informant. In Experiment 2, both age groups displayed trust in knowledgeable over ignorant speakers. In Experiment 3, children extended selective trust when learning both verbal and nonverbal information. These experiments demonstrate that preschoolers have a key strategy for assessing the reliability of information.