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Gaining Knowledge via Other Minds: Children's Flexible Trust in Others as Sources of Information (2011)

by Elizabeth J. Robinson, Stephen A. Butterfill and Erika Nurmsoo

---British Journal of Developmental Psychology 29(4), pp. 961-980
--- links: external [doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2011.02036.x]


In five experiments, we examined 3- to 6-year-olds' understanding that they could gain knowledge indirectly from someone who had seen something they had not. Consistent with previous research, children judged that an informant, who had seen inside a box, knew its contents. Similarly, when an informant marked a picture to indicate her suggestion as to the content of the box, 3- to 4-year-olds trusted this more frequently when the informant had seen inside the box than when she had not. Going beyond previous research, 3- to 4-year-olds were also sensitive to informants' relevant experience when they had to look over a barrier to see the marked picture, or ask for the barrier to be raised. Yet when children had to elicit the informant's suggestion, rather than just consult a suggestion already present, even 4- to 5-year-olds were no more likely to do so when the informant had seen the box's content than when she had not, and no more likely to trust the well-informed suggestion than the uninformed one. We conclude that young children who can ask questions may not yet fully understand the process by which they can gain accurate information from someone who has the experience they lack.