Trust Matters: Measuring Preschoolers' Epistemic and Interpersonal Trust In Teachers

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Trust Matters: Measuring Preschoolers' Epistemic and Interpersonal Trust In Teachers

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Knowledge derived from the testimony of others is a ubiquitous part of human learning. Children rely on others to learn information about scientific facts, historical events, and cultural and social practices. Abundant experimental work has revealed that children’s learning from testimony is selective, guided by considerations about the epistemic and social qualities of agents. The extant work in this literature has conceptualized this selectivity as showcasing epistemic trust – trust that is extended based on evidence about agents. However, social transactions are fundamental to testimonial exchanges and are difficult to situate within a purely evidential framework, leaving open the possibility that social considerations reflect a distinct variety of trust that has not been measured in this literature. To this end, the studies here offer an initial attempt to define and measure two varieties of trust and to examine how these distinct varieties of trust impact children’s learning in an applied setting. Since teachers express a range of epistemic and interpersonal behaviors, some of which have been actively evaluated by preschool-aged children in experimental contexts, preschool classrooms were chosen as a natural setting to investigate the nature of epistemic and interpersonal evaluations as they develop in the course of a relationship with a teacher. Across two studies, children’s epistemic and interpersonal trust in an adult teacher was examined using two 10-item evaluations that were created to assess children’s ratings of epistemic trust (the extent to which they viewed their teacher as having knowledge across different situations and domains) and interpersonal trust (the extent to which they viewed their teacher as a source of help or comfort across different situations). Study 1 (N = 63 3- and 4-year-olds) experimentally manipulated the behavior of an adult teacher in order to test for predicted differences in epistemic and interpersonal trust as a function of condition. Study 2 (N = 43 3- to 5-year-olds) explored whether variation exists in preschoolers’ epistemic and interpersonal trust in an applied setting by asking children to report on their trust in their lead teacher twice over the course of an academic year. In both studies, children’s learning and memory for information taught to them by their teacher was assessed, and hierarchical regression analysis was used to test for associations between trust and learning controlling for child demographics and cognitive abilities. Epistemic trust varied as a function of condition (Study 1) and teacher (Study 2), offering initial support for distinguishing between epistemic and interpersonal trust. While neither form of trust was associated with learning, suggestions are made for future work exploring the associations between trust and learning. Taken together, these studies offer new directions for exploring children’s trust and the impact that it has on learning and offers an initial step in translating empirical work on children’s selective epistemic trust to more applied contexts.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.May 2020. Major: Child Psychology. Advisor: Melissa Koenig. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 109 pages.

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Pesch, Annelise. (2020). Trust Matters: Measuring Preschoolers' Epistemic and Interpersonal Trust In Teachers. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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