Selective social learning

Much of children’s knowledge is acquired through what they are told.  In one line of research, we study how young children selectively learn from others based on different cues.  Our previous findings have shown that preschoolers are sensitive to the social category of speakers (e.g., gender) when learning new information from others (Ma & Woolley, 2013), and that children are able to use various conversational cues to make inferences about novel entities (Woolly, Ma, & Lopez-Mobilia, 2011).

In two recently completed projects, we have examined whether preschoolers attend to the physical characteristics of speakers when learning from others.  Our findings indicate that 4- and 6-year-olds attribute greater general knowledge to professionally rather than casually dressed individuals and prefer to learn from the former (McDonald & Ma, under review), and that 4- and 5-year-olds show less trust in what they are told by physically disabled or obese individuals (Jaffer & Ma, 2015).

In another series of ongoing studies, we explore whether preschool-aged children are able to use reputational information transmitted through gossip to guide their selective learning from others (Ma & Payne, under revision).  This research is funded by a grant from SSHRC.