Children are often highly dependent on other people to learn about the world around them. However, information communicated by others is not guaranteed to be correct, and sources differ vastly in both knowledge and intent. Recent research suggests that as early as preschool, if not before, children actively monitor the knowledge and intentions of potential sources of information, and, all else being equal, prefer to learn from more competent and moral individuals, a phenomenon termed selective learning (see, e.g., Koenig & Stephens, 2014 for a review). Thus far, the extant research on children’s selective learning has focused exclusively on describing children’s sensitivity to various indicators of source competence and morality. The primary aim of this dissertation project was to go beyond the level of description to investigate how young children selectively learn from individuals varying in the dimensions of competence and morality. Specifically, the current study sought to determine (1) the extent to which children demonstrate enhanced memory for situations involving incompetent and immoral individuals, and (2) how this potential memory bias manifests in children’s selective learning preferences, retention of communicated information, and source monitoring in learning situations featuring incompetent and immoral informants. Experiment 1 directly addressed the first aim by presenting preschoolers with a series of individuals described as smart, nice, not smart, and not nice and assessing their recognition memory and memory for the described characteristics of each individual. Children demonstrated enhanced memory for the described characteristics of immoral and incompetent individuals relative to their moral and competent counterparts. Experiment 2 addressed the second aim by presenting children with two individuals varying in competence and morality and then assessing children’s willingness to solicit novel information from them, their tendency to express belief in them, their retention of the content of the novel facts they communicated, and their memory for the source (i.e., who told them) of each communicated fact. Children exhibited a preference to solicit novel information from and express belief in competent and moral individuals, greater retention of information communicated by competent and moral individuals, and more accurate source judgments when a competent or moral individual had served as the informant. Children’s source monitoring performance was associated with both their selective learning preferences and their selective retention of communicated information.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2016. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Melissa Koenig. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 77 pages.
Young children's source monitoring and selective learning from problematic individuals.
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