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Early sensitivity to arguments: How preschoolers weight circular arguments

Mercier, Hugo
Published in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2014, vol. 125, p. 102-109
Abstract Observational studies suggest that children as young as 2 years can evaluate some of the arguments people offer them. However, experimental studies of sensitivity to different arguments have not yet targeted children younger than 5 years. The current study aimed at bridging this gap by testing the ability of preschoolers (3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds) to weight arguments. To do so, it focused on a common type of fallacy—circularity—to which 5-year-olds are sensitive. The current experiment asked children—and, as a group control, adults—to choose between the contradictory opinions of two speakers. In the first task, participants of all age groups favored an opinion supported by a strong argument over an opinion supported by a circular argument. In the second task, 4- and 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds or adults, favored the opinion supported by a circular argument over an unsupported opinion. We suggest that the results of these tasks in 3- to 5-year-olds are best interpreted as resulting from the combination of two mechanisms: (a) basic skills of argument evaluations that process the content of arguments, allowing children as young as 3 years to favor non-circular arguments over circular arguments, and (b) a heuristic that leads older children (4- and 5-year-olds) to give some weight to circular arguments, possibly by interpreting these arguments as a cue to speaker dominance.
Keywords Argument evaluationArgumentationTestimonyCircular argumentsReasoningPreschoolers
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MERCIER, Hugo, BERNARD, Stéphane, CLEMENT, Fabrice. Early sensitivity to arguments: How preschoolers weight circular arguments. In: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2014, vol. 125, p. 102-109. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.11.011

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Deposited on : 2017-12-13

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