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The whole truth
Date:6/10/2014

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Children learn a great deal about the world from their own exploration, but they also rely on what adults tell them. Studies have shown that children can figure out when someone is lying to them, but cognitive scientists from MIT recently tackled a subtler question: Can children tell when adults are telling them the truth, but not the whole truth?

Led by Laura Schulz, the Class of 1943 Career Development Associate Professor of Cognitive Science, the researchers found that not only can children make this distinction, but they can also compensate for incomplete information by exploring more on their own.

Determining whom to trust is an important skill to learn at an early age because so much of our knowledge about the world comes from other people, says Hyowon Gweon, an MIT postdoc and lead author of a paper describing the findings in the journal Cognition.

"When someone provides us information, we not only learn about what is being taught; we also learn something about that person. If the information is accurate and complete, then you might also trust that person in the future," Gweon says. "But if this person has taught you something wrong, has made a mistake, or has omitted something that's important for you to know, then you might want to suspend your trust, be skeptical of the information he provides in the future, and even seek other sources of information."

The study builds on a 2011 paper in which Schulz, Gweon, and others investigated how children behave when a teacher explains only one function of a toy that can do four different things. They found that these children spent most of their time exploring only the function the teacher had demonstrated (the toy squeaks when a yellow tube is pulled), assuming that was the only thing it could do. However, children who received no instruction spent more time exploring all of the toy's features and ended up discovering more of them.

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Contact: Sarah McDonnell
s_mcd@mit.edu
617-253-8923
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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