What do children take into account when deciding whether to trust others?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Research has shown that 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds, mistrust people who repeatedly give them wrong information. However, if someone gives inaccurate information by mistake, and then apologizes, perhaps children will trust that person again in the future. This study will help us understand how apologies influence young children’s trust in, and perception of, individuals who provide incorrect information.

    In this study, young children play a game during which they are given multiple turns to determine which of two cups has a sticker hidden within it. Each turn, before picking a cup, children are shown a video where a person tells them which cup to pick. Although children do not know it, this person always gives inaccurate information about where the sticker is hidden. After each turn, some children receive an apology from the person for giving them inaccurate information, while others do not receive an apology. We are interested in whether children trust this person even after she repeatedly gives inaccurate information, and whether apologies influence children’s willingness to continue to trust her.

    We predict that younger children will continue to trust the person in the video regardless of whether she provides apologies or not. We predict that older children will continue to trust the person in the video for more rounds of the game when she apologizes than when she does not apologize; however, after repeated rounds of the game we expect older children will stop trusting her even if they have been receiving apologies.

    This study will add to our understanding of how children learn from others. It will help us learn more about which aspects of behavior children take into account when making decisions.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Paul Harris Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

        » Paul Harris Laboratory

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    On the Lookout

    In the Children’s Gallery, collect the rabbit, chipmunk, and fox puppets. Ask your child to pretend to be the rabbit, and you can pretend to be the chipmunk. Search for food together, but try to avoid being seen by the fox.

    Hide the fox somewhere nearby. As the chipmunk, tell the rabbit that the area where the fox is hiding is a “safe place to find food.” Does your child have the rabbit search for food there? When the fox “sees” the rabbit, have the fox run after the rabbit. Then have the chipmunk apologize to the rabbit for being wrong. Play the game a couple more times, and observe whether the rabbit (your child) continues to trust the chipmunk’s directions.

    Activities to Try at Home

    Changing Science

    When scientists discover new evidence, it can change our understanding of how the world works. For example, ideas about nutrition (e.g., eating margarine versus butter) have changed over time. When scientists gain access to new information that does not match existing ideas about how the world works, they admit that their previous understanding was inaccurate, and revise their understanding so that science can move forward.

    The book Boy Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs!, by Kathleen V. Kudlinski, explains many changes in what scientists have thought about dinosaurs over time. Try reading this book (available at many local libraries) and talking with your child about the evidence that helped scientists to change their ideas. What information originally made scientists think the T-Rex dragged its tail on the ground, or that all dinosaurs had scaly skin? What new evidence makes scientists think this isn’t true?

Research Spotlight

Contact Living Laboratory staff:

livinglaboratory@mos.org