Scientific article

Early sensitivity to arguments: How preschoolers weight circular arguments

Published inJournal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 125, p. 102-109
Publication date2014

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.

  • Argument evaluation
  • Argumentation
  • Testimony
  • Circular arguments
  • Reasoning
  • Preschoolers
Affiliation Not a UNIGE publication
Citation (ISO format)
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
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0022-0965

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