Preschoolers expect others to learn rationally from evidence

Phyllis YanUniversity of Michigan
Rachel MagidMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Laura SchulzMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstract

Even infants expect agents to act rationally in pursuit of their goals. However, little research has looked at whether young children expect other agents to learn rationally. In the current study, we investigated 4.5- to 6-year-olds’ reasoning about another agent’s beliefs after the agent observed a sample drawn randomly or selectively from a population. We found that those children who could correctly track both the true state of the world and the other agent’s initial beliefs expected the other agent to learn rationally from the data. Critically, this inference depended upon but could not be reduced to either the child’s own understanding of the world, or the child’s own inferences from the sampling process, suggesting that the ability to integrate these component processes underlies a developing understanding of the way in which evidence informs others’ beliefs.

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