TEXAS (TIP): A new study has found that children are less to believe a mean person than a nice person, even if the pleasant person was described as having no knowledge on the topic. Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas examined how preschoolers decide whom to believe when provided with two conflicting pieces of information given by a nice or mean adult. Dr. Asheley Landrum, lead researcher of the study, said that past research have shown children recognize that different people know different things.
However, less was known about how children decide between conflicting claims from alleged experts. Landrum and colleagues conducted a series of experiments to test how children decide who is a trustworthy source of information. A total of 164 children, ages 3 to 5, participated in the experiments by watching videos of people described as eagle or bicycle “experts.” The first experiment questioned if children understood that some people have more knowledge about topics depending on their expertise, that is, eagle experts know more about birds than bicycle experts.
The second and third experiments examined how niceness and meanness affected assigning knowledge to an expert. “Even when an expert clearly should know an answer to a question, children tend to trust claims made by nice people with no expertise over mean people with clearly relevant expertise,” said Dr. Candice Mills, Landrum’s advisor and co-author on the paper. According to Mills, children may conclude that someone who appears pleasant is both trustworthy and competent, even if the friendly appearance is a carefully crafted act of manipulation. The study is published in Developmental Science.