Cognitive pragmatism: Children flexibly choose between facts and conjectures.

AbstractAbundant work has looked at children’s ability to appropriately reject testimonies and unverified claims (Butler, Schmidt, Tavassolie, & Gibbs, 2017; Frazier, Gelman, & Wellman, 2009; Koenig, Clement, & Harris, 2004). However, sometimes our current knowledge is insufficient for solving a problem. In these cases, we should reject unsatisfying facts and prefer satisfying, if speculative, conjectures. In two studies, we gave 4-7 year-old children (Study 1, N=66; Study 2, N=32) questions that either could or could not be answered with information in a story. For each question, children made a binary choice between a factual answer citing information from the story or a conjectural answer that made unverified claims. Across age groups, children successfully chose the more satisfying response regardless of its truth value: children chose facts for questions with known answers and conjectures for questions with unknown answers. These findings suggest that children will go beyond known information to endorse unverified claims when they satisfy the question-under-discussion.

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