Early Testimonial Learning: Monitoring Speech Acts and Speakers

Elizabeth Stephens, Sarah Suarez, Melissa Koenig

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

19 Scopus citations


Testimony provides children with a rich source of knowledge about the world and the people in it. However, testimony is not guaranteed to be veridical, and speakers vary greatly in both knowledge and intent. In this chapter, we argue that children encounter two primary types of conflicts when learning from speakers: conflicts of knowledge and conflicts of interest. We review recent research on children's selective trust in testimony and propose two distinct mechanisms supporting early epistemic vigilance in response to the conflicts associated with speakers. The first section of the chapter focuses on the mechanism of coherence checking, which occurs during the process of message comprehension and facilitates children's comparison of information communicated through testimony to their prior knowledge, alerting them to inaccurate, inconsistent, irrational, and implausible messages. The second section focuses on source-monitoring processes. When children lack relevant prior knowledge with which to evaluate testimonial messages, they monitor speakers themselves for evidence of competence and morality, attending to cues such as confidence, consensus, access to information, prosocial and antisocial behavior, and group membership.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages33
StatePublished - 2015

Publication series

NameAdvances in Child Development and Behavior
ISSN (Print)0065-2407

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • Coherence checking
  • Epistemic vigilance
  • Selective learning
  • Selective trust
  • Source monitoring
  • Testimony


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