Varieties of testimony: Children's selective learning in semantic versus episodic domains

Elizabeth C. Stephens, Melissa Koenig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Although preschoolers appear sensitive to the risk of misinformation and demonstrate selective learning in certain experimental contexts (e.g., Koenig, Clément, & Harris, 2004), other paradigms emphasize their striking credulity (e.g., Jaswal, Croft, Setia, & Cole, 2010). The current study sought to explain these divergent patterns by examining the possibility that errors for semantic information, a type of information that is typically generalizable and difficult to verify independently, promote greater vigilance than errors for episodic information, which is often event-specific and independently verifiable. Three- and 4-year-olds first viewed 2 speakers testify correctly or incorrectly about object labels (Semantic condition) or locations (Episodic condition). At test, speakers presented conflicting novel object labels and locations. Preschoolers initially exposed to semantic inaccuracy more vigilantly preferred a previously accurate informant than did children initially exposed to episodic inaccuracy. Findings speak against a homogeneous treatment of testimony and suggest that preschoolers' testimonial vigilance varies according to the content of speakers' errors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-188
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Lauren Robertson for help with data collection and scoring, and are grateful to all participating families and children. This research was supported by the National Institute of Health under a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (grant number 5T32HD007151 ) from the NICHD to E. Stephens and by the National Science Foundation (grant number 656007 ) to M. Koenig.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Errors
  • Selective learning
  • Testimony
  • Trust


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