Selective learning from others : children’s motive-based inferences about an individual’s credibility
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People are highly attentive to others’ motivations when assessing credibility. For instance, political candidates who appear to act against self-interests (e.g., praise an opponent) are considered more trustworthy than those who act in self-serving ways (e.g., attack an opponent or praise themselves). How early in life does self-interest based trust/skepticism develop? A main goal of the dissertation was to test whether children’s trust behaviors are influenced by self-interest cues. In two studies, adult and child participants (N = 136) played a finding game with another player. The other player served as the informant for the location of hidden prizes. Participants, seated in another room, had to guess (from two potential locations) where they thought the prize actually was. Informants were incentivized via reward rules to be truthful (informants only benefitted if participants guessed correctly) or deceitful (informants only benefitted if participants guessed incorrectly). If participants can infer the informants’ credibility solely from reward rules associated with self-interest, they should trust the other player less often if interests conflict. A second goal was to identify socio-cognitive skills that may be associated with people’s ability to (mis)trust selectively. Some of the skills that were investigated include: participants’ ability to remember and manipulate information, awareness that people can infer others’ intentions, understanding that people may arrive at different conclusions when reasoning about the same stimuli, and general intuitions about whether others are likely to keep their word. Like adults, children playing the finding game sometimes adjusted their behavior flexibly and strategically to match self-interests—without having prior expectations about another individual’s predisposition to cooperate. Specifically, children and adults trusted their partner more often when the game incentivized cooperation versus competition. However, our results also suggest that children’s ability to benefit from cooperation incentives has not fully developed in the elementary school years: even 9-year-olds seemed more suspicious of partners with common interests than did adults. Children’s working memory skills predicted whether they would perform similarly to adults. Taken together, these findings significantly advance our understanding of children’s trust judgments as guided by their self-interest based inferences.