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Preschool Kids Can Be Discriminating Learners

Kids learn about the world from those around them. New research finds that although kids are susceptible to information provided to them, they are also not as gullible as one may imagine.

Researchers found this was especially true for those who have a good understanding of what’s going on inside someone else’s head.

In a new study, researchers from Concordia University and the University of Ottawa discovered that even young children can be selective in whom they prefer to learn from.

A paper discussing their findings has been recently published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

“We already know that some preschoolers are more likely to learn from individuals with a history of making accurate claims over individuals who have been inaccurate or ignorant,” said the study’s senior author, Diane Poulin-Dubois, Ph.D.

“Kids have also been shown to prefer learning from nicer, more confident or more attractive individuals — attributes that don’t have anything to do with intelligence. We speculated that certain social-cognitive abilities might explain some of these learning differences,” she said.

To test the hypothesis, Poulin-Dubois worked with study co-author Danielle Penney and the study’s first author, Dr. Patricia Brosseau-Liard, who completed the study while she held a postdoctoral research position at Concordia.

The three researchers took 65 children through a series of tasks that tested their ability to learn new words, as well as their “theory of mind” (ToM); that is, the intuitive understanding of one’s own and other people’s minds or mental states.

The researchers tested whether the preschool-aged participants were more likely to learn new words from an accurate or inaccurate individual. They also examined whether the children were more likely to learn from a physically strong individual over a weak one.

In addition, the researchers embarked on a series of quick ToM tests that required the children to empathize with another individual.

For the ToM tests, the participants were first introduced to several different figurines and given some background information about each: Mr. Jones likes carrots, Linda thinks her cat is hiding in the bushes, Polly and Peter have never seen what’s inside the box.

The children were then asked to theorize about what kind of snack Mr. Jones would want, where Linda would search for her dog, and what Polly and Peter would think was inside the box.

A clear pattern emerged: The children who could accurately intuit the figurines’ thoughts and desires were more likely to believe the individuals with the greatest verbal accuracy, rather than those who had demonstrated the greatest strength. That is, the kids with better ToM skills were less gullible.

Brosseau-Liard cautions that theory of mind accounts for only a small variance.

“Even though theory of mind does predict children’s tendency to selectively learn from more accurate individuals, it does not completely explain this ability. There are likely many other variables influencing selective learning, including important social and cognitive attributes,” she said.

Source: Concordia University/EurekAlert

Preschool Kids Can Be Discriminating Learners

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Preschool Kids Can Be Discriminating Learners. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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