Causal Clarity Prevents the Emergence of Social Biases in Children’s Excusing of Mistakes

Bolivar Reyes-Jaquez, Catharine H. Echols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In two studies, we examined how 5-­year-­olds weigh similarity against other factors in deciding from whom to learn. Specifically, we examined the factors of history of and reasons for inaccuracy in Experiment 1 (n = 64) and of competence and authority in Experiment 2 (n = 32). In the 1st phase of Experiments 1 and 2, children’s social biases were tested: 5-year-olds met both a similar informant (SI) and a dissimilar informant (DI). These informants were puppets (Experiment 1) or human teachers (Experiment 2). Children could select either informant as a source of object names. Across experiments children systematically preferred learning from the SI over DI. In the 2nd phase of Experiment 1, both informants first provided accurate information and then 1 of them became inaccurate during an event that clearly explained (being blindfolded) or did not explain (wearing a scarf) the inaccuracy. For half the children, the SI was accurate and the DI was inaccurate. Only after inaccuracy events that were causally unclear did children showcase similarity biases in their subsequent learning preferences. Experiment 2 showed that identifying a DI as a teacher (a profession associated with positive attributes) failed to counter children’s similarity bias. These findings provide important insights on contextual factors that contribute to children’s favoring of socially meaningful others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-288
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Cognition and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NSF Grant BCS-0447018 to C.H.E. and a Fulbright fellowship to B.R.-J.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Taylor & Francis.


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