Magical Thinking: Outcome Bias Affects Children's Evaluation of Testimony

Iris OvedUniversity of California, San Diego
Gail HeymanUniversity of California, San Diego
David BarnerUniversity of California, San Diego

Abstract

In a series of three experiments we examined how preschool children assess testimony in relation to the relative desirability of the outcome for themselves and for the individual providing the testimony. The first two experiments reveal evidence for an outcome bias: children are more likely to believe an extraordinary claim when they have little to lose in doing so (Exp.1), and when they stand to gain if the claim is true (Exp. 2). The final experiment (Exp. 3) showed that children are less likely to believe extraordinary claims when the person making the claim has ulterior motives (e.g., stands to potentially gain from the child’s belief). These data show that children’s beliefs acquired from testimony are subject to outcome bias, and that children are capable of exercising skepticism when the source of testimony is likely to have ulterior motives.

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