student profile: Miss Kate Alison Ridgway


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Preschool Children's Selective Trust in a Causal Learning Task: The Role of the Intentionality of the Demonstrator

Supervisors: Micah GOLDWATER , Caroline MOUL

Thesis abstract:

The present study applied the selective trust paradigm developed by Harris, Clement and Koenig (2004) to preschooler’s causal learning. The study aimed to determine whether three- and four-year-olds would a) correctly encode the causal structure of two novel toys, b) whether they would selectively trust an accurate and clear causal demonstrator over an accurate yet vague causal demonstrator and c) whether they would selectively trust an intentionally clear demonstrator over an accidentally clear demonstrator. The results of the study demonstrated that children were able to learn how to use the first novel toy, the Elsa-finder, but they were not able to learn how to use the second novel toy, the Blicket-detector. This finding runs counter to the results of previous experiments utilising Blicket-detector toys that have repeatedly shown that children as young as three-years-old are able to learn how to use a Blicket-detector provided they witness someone demonstrate the function of the toy in an inductively sufficient way (Becker, Vandorpe, Debeys, & De Houwer,  2009; Gopnik, Sobel, Schulz, & Glymour, 2001; Gopnik & Schulz, 2004).  However, differences in the way the Blicket-detector task was verbally framed to preschoolers in the present study may account for the discrepant rates of causal learning. When it came to the pre-schooler’s selective trust behaviour, counter to predictions, they did not appear to either a) selectively trust a clear source of causal information over an ambiguous source of information or b) selectively trust an intentionally clear demonstrator over an accidentally clear demonstrator. Research demonstrating pre-schoolers inability to concurrently learn new information and evaluate the relative ability of individuals to transmit this new information, appears to account for the findings of the present study (Gopnik & Graf, 1998; Gillis & Nielson, 2013). Future directions for research examining children’s selective trust behaviour and causal learning are discussed. 

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