Characterizing children’s responsiveness to cues of speaker trustworthiness: two proposals
Testimonial exchanges are joint endeavors involving speakers and hearers. These testimonial exchanges have been the recent focus of a broad and productive research program and our review of this large literature will be guided by two main questions: (1) Given the evidence that children selectively respond to many speaker characteristics when deciding whom to trust or learn from, do they use all available cues to guide their selectivity or are they especially attuned to specific core or primary dimensions?, and (2) Given that children demonstrate selectivity in response to different testimonial content, namely, common or semantic information as well as idiosyncratic or episodic information, do they treat these two types of testimony differently? Using these questions as our guide, we make two proposals about testimonial exchanges. First, in line with recent proposals in adult social cognition, we suggest that children and adults evaluate speakers along two primary dimensions: competence and benevolence (or “moral warmth”, see Fiske, Cuddy, & Glick, 2007). Second, consistent with recent proposals in epistemology, we caution against an overly broad treatment of testimony. We will argue for the importance of a ‘semantic’ versus ‘episodic’ distinction on two grounds: (1) these two types of messages elicit different intuitions about what is involved in knowing by testimony, and (2) there are empirical reasons to think that the psychological processes that underlie reasoning about ‘semantic’ versus ‘episodic’ testimony may be qualitatively different.