Detecting deception : the role of nonverbal behavior in children’s decisions of trust




Ghossainy, Maliki Eyvonne

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A wealth of research has demonstrated that children possess mechanisms that guide from whom they prefer to learn (VanderBorght & Jaswal, 2009; Corriveau & Harris, 2009; Koenig & Harris, 2005a, Nurmsoo & Robinson, 2009). Nevertheless, understanding the mechanisms that protect children against deceptive speakers has received little attention (Mills, 2012; Sperber, Clément, Heintz, Mascaro, Mercier, Origgi, & Wilson, 2010). This study examines the development of children’s ability to modulate trust in verbal testimony as a function of nonverbal behavior. Four-, 5-, and 6-year-olds were tasked with locating a toy hidden in one of two boxes. Prior to deciding the location, children watched a video of an adult providing verbal and/or nonverbal testimony about the location of the toy. Sometimes these were consistent, but other times they were in conflict. Results revealed that, when sources were consistent, all children trusted the verbal testimony. However, when they were inconsistent, only 6-year-olds showed distrust towards verbal testimony and chose in favor of nonverbal testimony; 4- and 5-year-olds continued to trust verbal testimony. Thus, not until 6 years are children able to modulate their trust in verbal testimony as a function of nonverbal information. This is not because younger children are unaware of non-verbal behavior; indeed, when nonverbal testimony was offered exclusively, all ages used it to find the object. Children also completed four measures of cognitive functioning. A theory of mind scale was administered to measure the level of mental state reasoning (Wellman & Liu, 2004), a Day/Night task (Carlson & Moses, 2001) was used to measure inhibitory control, a backwards digit span task (Davis & Pratt, 1996) measured working memory, and a dimensional change card sorting task (Diamond, Carlson & Beck, 2005) was used to measure mental flexibility. After accounting for the effect of age, none of these cognitive measures had a significant effect on children’s performance when verbal and nonverbal testimony conflicted.



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