Evaluations of epistemic and practical reasons for belief in a predominantly White U.S. sample of preschoolers

Annelise Pesch, Katherine E. Ridge, Sarah Suárez, Benjamin McMyler, Melissa A. Koenig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parents and educators commonly seek to influence children's behavior by providing them with practical incentives, but how should we understand the influence of such incentives on children's beliefs? Are children capable of distinguishing between speech acts that provide practical reasons for believing, such as requests and offers, from speech acts that provide straightforward epistemic reasons, such as simple acts of telling? To investigate these questions, we randomly assigned 3- to 6-year-old children (N = 97) to one of two conditions (Request or Offer) in which two speakers each commented on a series of four exotic animals. In each condition, an agent who stated what an object was called with a simple telling (“This is a tanzer”) was contrasted with an agent who made either a doxastic request (“I want you to think that this is a tanzer”) or a doxastic offer (“If you think that this is a tanzer, I'll let you play with this new toy”). We then measured children's endorsement of and semantic memory for the claims as well as their knowledge attributions and resource allocation decisions. Our results suggest that children appreciate the epistemic reasons inherent in acts of telling when contrasted with doxastic requests, as evidenced by their general preference to learn from, attribute knowledge to, and share with the teller in the Request condition. When tellings were contrasted with doxastic offers, children were less systematic in their preferences. We discuss various interpretations of this finding and offer suggestions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105499
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank our undergraduate research assistants for their lab assistance as well as the parents and children who participated in this research. This research was supported by the Office of Vice Provost for Research (Grant No. 22890) to MAK and by the Institute of Child Development Small Grant to KER.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Inc.


  • Authoritarianism
  • Belief
  • Early childhood
  • Epistemic trust
  • Individual differences
  • Testimony

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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