chapter  10
13 Pages

Commentary I: Developing dimensions of deference: the cognitive and social underpinnings of trust in testimony and its development


The surge of work on trust in testimony in recent years, as exemplified by the chapters in this volume, raises a central question. There seems to be something obviously childlike about how younger humans deal with information that they learn through other minds and yet they also seem to show a precocious and extraordinary array of cognitive skills that they use to tune their interpretations of testimony. What changes over the course of development? By considering different views of how children may differ from adults with respect to their understanding of testimony, a more elaborated account of the cognitive and social underpinnings of testimony starts to emerge, one that not only shows several distinct dimensions that bear on how we grasp and use testimony but also shows how it is connected far more deeply to other facets of our folk beliefs than might seem at first glance. In short, there is no single cognitive skill that is the basis for developmental change with regard to understanding and use of testimony, but rather a rich constellation of intersecting abilities that extend far beyond testimony narrowly construed. In addition, it is striking how rudimentary versions of almost all these skills have very early origins, making all the more interesting questions of what factors develop and their role in the young child.