Friederike Schütte, Nivedita Mani, and Tanya Behne (2020)

Retrospective inferences in selective trust

Royal Society Open Science, 7(2):1-11.

Preschoolers learn selectively from others based on the speakers' prior accuracy. This indicates that they recognize the models' (in)competence and use it to predict who will provide the most accurate and useful information in the future. Here, we investigated whether 5-y.-o. children are also able to use speaker reliability retrospectively, once they have more information regarding their competence. They first experienced two previously unknown speakers who provided conflicting information about the referent of a novel label, with each speaker using the same novel label to refer exclusively to a different novel object. Following this, children learned about the speakers' differing labeling accuracy. Subsequently, children selectively endorsed the object-label link initially provided by the speaker who turned out to be reliable significantly above chance. Crucially, more than half of these children justified their object selection with reference to speaker reliability, indicating the ability to explicitly reason about their selective trust in others based on the informants' individual competences. Findings further corroborate the notion that preschoolers are able to use advanced, metacognitive strategies (trait reasoning) to learn selectively. In contrast, since learning preceded reliability exposure and gaze data showed no preferential looking toward the more reliable speaker, findings cannot be accounted for by attentional bias accounts of selective social learning.