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The Role of Prior Belief in Children's Trust in Testimony: A Social Ecological Approach.

By Cheri Cheuk-Yu Chan


Throughout development, we accumulate knowledge about the world around us by reconciling novel information from external sources with our existing beliefs. However, little is known about how the reconciliation process develops, and how its development interacts with the environment. This dissertation explores the relationship between the strength of prior beliefs and children’s trust in testimony, and examines how this relationship operates across different social contexts, developmental stages, and cultures. The cultural investigation, in particular, is organized in relation to the ways in which culturally-shaped beliefs and experiences combine to socialize independent vs. interdependent learners. Across three studies (N = 200), preschoolers, kindergartners, and second-graders in the United States and in Hong Kong categorized objects in the presence of a confederate teacher, who sometimes provided labels that were in conflict with children’s beliefs about the objects. The ambiguity of the objects receiving unexpected labels (ambiguous vs. non-ambiguous) and the social context (the teacher’s presence vs. absence) were manipulated. Converging measures (endorsement of unexpected labels, spontaneous comments, and reaction times) were used to portray multiple aspects of children’s trust behavior. Vignettes of hypothetical transgressions and questionnaire items were further used to elicit trust-relevant perceptions from children and their caregivers. Four key findings emerged from the investigation. First, the strength of prior beliefs influenced trust behavior across all social contexts, ages, and cultures examined. Second, the connection between endorsement and belief strength appeared more fine-tuned in older children. Third, and surprisingly, US kindergartners frequently endorsed unexpected testimony in all of their categorizations, whereas US and Chinese second-graders, and Chinese kindergartners were more selective, categorizing non-ambiguous objects based on their prior beliefs. Finally, the tendency for Chinese learners to be more prevention-focused and vigilant against error than US learners likely contributed to the cross-cultural patterns found in children’s trust in testimony

Topics: Children's Learning, Knowledge Acquisition, Trust in Testimony, Culture, Independent and Interdependent Self-construal, Social Ecological Theory
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