Belief Revision in Young Children: The Role of Prior Evidence and Novel Reasons

Published: 22-04-2020| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/c9ng6ct7np.2
Hanna Schleihauf,
Esther Herrmann,
Julia Fischer,
Jan Engelmann


A genuinely rational agent willingly revises even their most deeply held beliefs when given stronger reasons supporting an alternative view. Such reason responsiveness represents a key critical thinking skill for individuals participating in and exchanging arguments in public discourse. Here we investigate how the tendency to adjust beliefs in light of explicitly communicated reasons develops in young children. Study 1 probed the extent to which 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children selectively respond to good versus bad reasons in the absence of a prior belief. Four- and 5-year-old, but not 3-year-old children formed the belief that was supported by strong reasons. Study 2 undertook a stronger test of rationality: how 4- and 5-year-old children respond to verbal reasons given by a social partner when they conflict with a previously held belief. Children showed a higher likelihood of revising their initial beliefs when they were based on a guess rather than strong evidence. In addition, children were more likely to update their beliefs when they were presented with good rather than bad reasons for the alternative view. Taken together, these findings indicate that at least by age 4, young children consider both the strength of the evidence in favor of their prior beliefs and the verbal reasons cited in support of the alternative in deciding whether or not to change their mind.