Pragmatics Influence Children’s Use of Majority Information

Abstract

Do children always conform to a majority’s testimony, or do the pragmatics of that testimony matter? Across four conditions, we modified the testimony in an object-labeling task, to account for pragmatic principles. Four- and 5-year-olds were given a choice between an object endorsed by a three-person majority, or one endorsed by a single minority informant. Children were most likely to endorse the majority object in the unendorsed condition, in which the majority explicitly stated that the label applied to only one referent, whereas in the hidden condition, where only one object was present in the discourse, children chose objects endorsed by the majority and the minority equally, with conditions where the majority did not comment on the other item or expressed uncertainty about it intermediate. This suggests that children might not simply have a conformity bias; rather, they are sensitive to the majority’s implied intentions when learning from testimony.


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