Humans acquire much of their knowledge from the testimony of other people. An understanding of the way that information can be conveyed via gesture and vocalization is present in infancy. Thus, infants seek information from well-informed interlocutors, supply information to the ignorant, and make sense of communicative acts that they observe from a third-party perspective. This basic understanding is refined in the course of development. As they age, children's reasoning about testimony increasingly reflects an ability not just to detect imperfect or inaccurate claims but also to assess what inferences may or may not be drawn about informants given their particular situation. Children also attend to the broader characteristics of particular informants—their group membership, personality characteristics, and agreement or disagreement with other potential informants. When presented with unexpected or counterintuitive testimony, children are prone to set aside their own prior convictions, but they may sometimes defer to informants for inherently social reasons.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Akhtar N, Jipson J, Callanan MA. 2001. Learning words through overhearing. Child Dev 72:416–30 [Google Scholar]
  2. Baier A. 1986. Trust and antitrust. Ethics 96:231–60 [Google Scholar]
  3. Bascandziev I, Harris PL. 2016. The beautiful and the accurate: Are children's selective trust decisions biased. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 152:92–105 [Google Scholar]
  4. Bascandziev I, Powell LJ, Harris PL, Carey S. 2016. A role for executive functions in explanatory understanding of the physical world. Cogn. Dev. 39:71–85 [Google Scholar]
  5. Begus K, Gliga T, Southgate V. 2014. Infants learn what they want to learn: Responding to infant pointing leads to superior learning. PLOS ONE 9:e108817 [Google Scholar]
  6. Begus K, Southgate V. 2012. Infant pointing serves an interrogative function. Dev. Sci. 15:611–17 [Google Scholar]
  7. Behne T, Liszkowski U, Carpenter M, Tomasello M. 2012. Twelve-month-olds’ comprehension and production of pointing. Br. J. Dev. Psychol. 30:359–75 [Google Scholar]
  8. Bernard S, Castelain T, Mercier H, Kaufmann L, Van der Henst J, Clément F. 2016. The boss is always right: Preschoolers endorse the testimony of a dominant over that of a subordinate. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 152:307–17 [Google Scholar]
  9. Bernard S, Harris PL, Terrier N, Clément F. 2015. Children weigh the number of informants and perceptual uncertainty when identifying objects. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 36:70–81 [Google Scholar]
  10. Bonawitz E, Shafto P, Gweon H, Goodman ND, Spelke E, Schulz L. 2011. The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition 120:322–30 [Google Scholar]
  11. Boyd R, Richerson PJ. 1985. Culture and the Evolutionary Process Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press [Google Scholar]
  12. Brosseau-Liard PE, Birch SA. 2011. Epistemic states and traits: Preschoolers appreciate the differential informativeness of situation-specific and person-specific cues to knowledge. Child Dev 82:1788–96 [Google Scholar]
  13. Callanan MA. 2006. Cognitive development, culture, and conversation: comments on Harris and Koenig's “Truth in testimony: how children learn about science and religion.”. Child Dev 77:525–30 [Google Scholar]
  14. Castelain T, Bernard S, der Henst V, Mercier H. 2015. The influence of power and reason on young Maya children's endorsement of testimony. Dev. Sci. 19:957–66 [Google Scholar]
  15. Chan CC, Tardif T. 2013. Knowing better: the role of prior knowledge and culture in trust in testimony. Dev. Psychol. 49:591–601 [Google Scholar]
  16. Chen EE, Corriveau KH, Harris PL. 2013. Children trust a consensus composed of outgroup members—but do not retain that trust. Child Dev 84:269–82 [Google Scholar]
  17. Chouinard MM. 2007. Children's questions: a mechanism for cognitive development. Monogr. Soc. Res. Child Dev. 72:1–129 [Google Scholar]
  18. Chudek M, Heller S, Birch S, Henrich J. 2012. Prestige-biased cultural learning: Bystander's differential attention to potential models influences children's learning. Evol. Hum. Behav. 33:46–56 [Google Scholar]
  19. Corriveau KH, Chen EE, Harris PL. 2015. Judgments about fact and fiction by children from religious and non-religious backgrounds. Cogn. Sci. 39:353–82 [Google Scholar]
  20. Corriveau KH, Fusaro M, Harris PL. 2009a. Going with the flow: Preschoolers prefer non-dissenters as informants. Psychol. Sci. 20:372–77 [Google Scholar]
  21. Corriveau KH, Harris PL. 2009. Choosing your informant: weighing familiarity and recent accuracy. Dev. Sci. 12:426–37 [Google Scholar]
  22. Corriveau KH, Harris PL. 2010. Preschoolers (sometimes) defer to the majority in making simple perceptual judgments. Dev. Psychol. 46:437–45 [Google Scholar]
  23. Corriveau KH, Harris PL. 2015. Children's developing realization that some stories are true: links to the understanding of beliefs and signs. Cogn. Dev. 34:76–87 [Google Scholar]
  24. Corriveau KH, Harris PL, Meins E, Fernyhough C, Arnott B. et al. 2009b. Young children's trust in their mother's claims: longitudinal links with attachment security in infancy. Child Dev 80:750–61 [Google Scholar]
  25. Corriveau KH, Kim AL, Schwalen C, Harris PL. 2009c. Abraham Lincoln and Harry Potter: children's differentiation between historical and fantasy characters. Cognition 112:213–25 [Google Scholar]
  26. Corriveau KH, Kim E, Song G, Harris PL. 2013a. Young children's deference to a consensus varies by culture and judgment setting. J. Cogn. Cult. 13:367–81 [Google Scholar]
  27. Corriveau KH, Kinzler K, Harris PL. 2013b. Accuracy trumps accent in children's endorsement of object labels. Dev. Psychol. 49:470–79 [Google Scholar]
  28. Corriveau KH, Kurkul KE. 2014. “Why does rain fall?”; Children prefer to learn from an informant who uses noncircular explanations. Child Dev 85:1827–35 [Google Scholar]
  29. Cunningham AE, Stanovich KE. 1998. What reading does for the mind. Am. Educ. 22:8–15 [Google Scholar]
  30. Davoodi T, Corriveau KH, Harris PL. 2016. Distinguishing between realistic and fantastical figures in Iran. Dev. Psychol. 52:221–31 [Google Scholar]
  31. De Rosnay M, Cooper PJ, Tsigaras N, Murray L. 2006. Transmission of social anxiety from mother to infant: an experimental study using a social referencing paradigm. Behav. Res. Ther. 44:1165–75 [Google Scholar]
  32. DiYanni CJ, Corriveau KH, Kurkul K, Nasrini J, Nini D. 2015. The role of consensus and culture in children's imitation of inefficient actions. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 137:99–110 [Google Scholar]
  33. Einav S, Robinson EJ. 2010. Children's sensitivity to error magnitude when evaluating informants. Cogn. Dev. 25:218–32 [Google Scholar]
  34. Einav S, Robinson EJ, Fox A. 2013. Take it as read: origins of trust in knowledge gained from print. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 114:262–74 [Google Scholar]
  35. Faulkner P. 2011. Knowledge on Trust Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  36. Frazier BN, Gelman SA, Wellman HM. 2009. Preschoolers’ search for explanatory information within adult-child conversation. Child Dev 80:1592–611 [Google Scholar]
  37. Frazier BN, Gelman SA, Wellman HM. 2016. Young children prefer and remember satisfying explanations. J. Cogn. Dev. 17:718–36 [Google Scholar]
  38. Fricker E. 1995. Telling and trusting: reductionism and anti-reductionism in the epistemology of testimony. Mind 104:393–411 [Google Scholar]
  39. Friedman O, Petrashek AR. 2009. Children do not follow the rule “ignorance means getting it wrong.”. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 102:114–21 [Google Scholar]
  40. Fusaro M, Harris PL. 2013. Dax gets the nod: Toddlers detect and use social cues to evaluate testimony. Dev. Psychol. 49:514–22 [Google Scholar]
  41. Ganea PA, Harris PL. 2013. Early limits on the verbal updating of an object's location. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 114:89–101 [Google Scholar]
  42. Gelfert A. 2006. Kant on testimony. Br. J. Hist. Philos. 14:627–52 [Google Scholar]
  43. Gelman SA. 2009. Learning from others: children's construction of concepts. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 60:115–40 [Google Scholar]
  44. Gelman SA, Coley JD. 1991. Language and categorization: the acquisition of natural kind terms. Perspectives on Language and Thought: Interrelations in Development SA Gelman, JP Byrnes 146–96 Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  45. Gelman SA, Markman EM. 1986. Categories and induction in young children. Cognition 23:183–209 [Google Scholar]
  46. Gilbert D. 1991. How mental systems believe. Am. Psychol. 46:107–19 [Google Scholar]
  47. Gopnik A, Wellman HM. 2012. Reconstructing constructivism; causal models, Bayesian learning mechanisms, and the theory theory. Psychol. Bull. 138:1085–108 [Google Scholar]
  48. Gweon H, Pelton H, Konopka JA, Schulz LE. 2014. Signs of omission: Children selectively explore when teachers are under-informative. Cognition 132:335–41 [Google Scholar]
  49. Harris PL. 2011. Death in Spain, Madagascar, and beyond. Children's Understanding of Death V Talwar, PL Harris, M Schleifer 19–40 Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  50. Harris PL. 2012. Trusting What You're Told: How Children Learn from Others Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  51. Harris PL, Corriveau KH. 2011. Young children's selective trust in informants. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B 366:1179–90 [Google Scholar]
  52. Harris PL, Corriveau KH. 2014. Learning from testimony about religion and science. Trust and Skepticism: Children's Selective Learning from Testimony E Robinson, S Einav 28–41 Hove, UK: Psychol. Press [Google Scholar]
  53. Harris PL, Koenig MA. 2006. Trust in testimony: how children learn about science and religion. Child Dev 77:505–24 [Google Scholar]
  54. Harris PL, Lane JD. 2014. Infants understand how testimony works. Topoi Int. Rev. Philos. 33:443–58 [Google Scholar]
  55. Harris PL, Pasquini ES, Duke S, Asscher JJ, Pons F. 2006. Germs and angels: the role of testimony in young children's ontology. Dev. Sci. 9:76–96 [Google Scholar]
  56. Hart B, Risley TR. 1995. Meaningful Differences in Everyday Experience of Young American Children Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes Publ. [Google Scholar]
  57. Heiphetz L, Lane JD, Waytz A, Young LL. 2016. How children and adults represent God's mind. Cogn. Sci. 40:121–44 [Google Scholar]
  58. Henderson AM, Graham SA, Schell V. 2015. 24-month-olds’ selective learning is not an all-or-none phenomenon. PLOS ONE 10:6e0131215 [Google Scholar]
  59. Hermes J, Behne T, Rakoczy H. 2015. The role of trait reasoning in young children's selective trust. Dev. Psychol. 51:1574–87 [Google Scholar]
  60. Hetherington C, Hendrickson C, Koenig MA. 2014. Reducing an in-group bias in preschool children: the impact of moral behavior. Dev. Sci. 17:1042–49 [Google Scholar]
  61. Heyman GD, Sritanyaratana L, Vanderbilt KE. 2013. Young children's trust in overtly misleading advice. Cogn. Sci. 37:646–67 [Google Scholar]
  62. Holton R. 1994. Deciding to trust, coming to believe. Aust. J. Philos. 72:63–76 [Google Scholar]
  63. Hume D. 1748. Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding New York: Georg Olms Verl. [Google Scholar]
  64. Huttenlocher J, Vasilyeva M, Waterfall HR, Vevea JL, Hedges LV. 2007. The varieties of speech to young children. Dev. Psychol. 43:1062–83 [Google Scholar]
  65. Jaswal VK. 2004. Don't believe everything you hear: preschoolers’ sensitivity to speaker intent in category induction. Child Dev 75:1871–85 [Google Scholar]
  66. Jaswal VK. 2006. Preschoolers favor the creator's label when reasoning about an artifact's function. Cognition 99:B83–92 [Google Scholar]
  67. Jaswal VK. 2010. Believing what you're told: young children's trust in unexpected testimony about the physical world. Cogn. Psychol. 61:248–72 [Google Scholar]
  68. Jaswal VK, Croft AC, Setia AR, Cole CA. 2010. Young children have a specific, highly robust bias to trust testimony. Psychol. Sci. 21:1541–47 [Google Scholar]
  69. Jaswal VK, Kondrad RL. 2016. Why children are not always epistemically vigilant: cognitive limits and social considerations. Child Dev. Perspect. 10:240–44 [Google Scholar]
  70. Jaswal VK, Lima OK, Small JE. 2009. Compliance, conversion and category induction. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 102:182–95 [Google Scholar]
  71. Jaswal VK, Malone LS. 2007. Turning believers into skeptics: 3-year-olds’ sensitivity to cues to speaker credibility. J. Cogn. Dev. 8:263–83 [Google Scholar]
  72. Jaswal VK, Neely LA. 2006. Adults don't always know best: Preschoolers use past reliability over age when learning new words. Psychol. Sci. 17:757–58 [Google Scholar]
  73. Jaswal VK, Pérez-Edgar K, Kondrad RL, Palmquist CM, Cole CA, Cole CE. 2014. Can't stop believing: inhibitory control and resistance to misleading testimony. Dev. Sci. 176:965–76 [Google Scholar]
  74. Jones K. 1999. Second-hand moral knowledge. J. Philos. 96:55–78 [Google Scholar]
  75. Kim G, Kwak K. 2011. Uncertainty matters: impact of stimulus ambiguity on infant social referencing. Infant Child Dev 20:449–63 [Google Scholar]
  76. Knudsen B, Liszkowski U. 2012. Eighteen and 24-month-old infants correct others in anticipation of action mistakes. Dev. Sci. 15:113–22 [Google Scholar]
  77. Koenig MA, Echols CH. 2003. Infants’ understanding of false labeling events: the referential roles of words and the speakers who use them. Cognition 87:179–208 [Google Scholar]
  78. Koenig MA, Harris PL. 2005. Preschoolers mistrust ignorant and inaccurate speakers. Child Dev 76:1261–77 [Google Scholar]
  79. Koenig MA, McMyler B. 2017. Testimonial knowledge: understanding the evidential, uncovering the interpersonal. The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology M Fricker, P Graham, D Henderson, N Pederson, J Wyatt New York: Routledge Publ In press [Google Scholar]
  80. Koenig MA, Woodward AW. 2010. Sensitivity of 24-month-olds to the prior inaccuracy of the source: possible mechanisms. Dev. Psychol. 46:815–26 [Google Scholar]
  81. Kondrad RL, Jaswal VK. 2012. Explaining the errors away: Young children forgive understandable semantic mistakes. Cogn. Dev. 27:126–35 [Google Scholar]
  82. Krehm M, Onishi KH, Vouloumanos A. 2014. Infants under 12 months understand that pointing is communicative. J. Cogn. Dev. 15:527–38 [Google Scholar]
  83. Kurkul K, Corriveau KH. 2017. Question, explanation, follow-up: a mechanism for learning from others?. Child Dev In press [Google Scholar]
  84. Kushnir T, Koenig MA. 2017. What I don't know won't hurt you: the relation between professed ignorance and later knowledge claims. Dev. Psychol. 53:826–35 [Google Scholar]
  85. Lackey J. 2008. Learning from Words: Testimony as a Source of Knowledge Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  86. Landrum AR, Mills CM, Johnston AM. 2013. When do children trust the expert? Benevolence information influences children's trust more than expertise. Dev. Sci. 16:622–38 [Google Scholar]
  87. Lane JD, Harris PL. 2014. Confronting, representing, and believing counterintuitive concepts: navigating the natural and the supernatural. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 9:144–60 [Google Scholar]
  88. Lane JD, Harris PL. 2015. The role of intuition and informants’ expertise in children's epistemic trust. Child Dev 86:919–26 [Google Scholar]
  89. Lane JD, Wellman HM, Gelman SA. 2013. Informants’ traits weigh heavily in young children's trust in testimony and in their epistemic inferences. Child Dev 84:1253–68 [Google Scholar]
  90. Levine RA, Levine SE, Schnell-Anzola B, Rowe ML, Dexter E. 2012. Literacy and Mothering: How Women's Schooling Changes the Lives of the World's Children Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  91. Liszkowski U, Carpenter M, Tomasello M. 2008. Twelve-month-olds communicate helpfully and appropriately for knowledgeable and ignorant partners. Cognition 108:732–39 [Google Scholar]
  92. Locke J. 1975 (1689). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  93. Luce MR, Callanan MA, Smilovic S. 2013. Links between parents' epistemological stance and children's evidence talk. Dev. Psychol. 49:454–61 [Google Scholar]
  94. Ma L, Ganea PA. 2010. Dealing with conflicting information: young children's reliance on what they see versus what they are told. Dev. Sci. 13:151–60 [Google Scholar]
  95. Martin A, Onishi KH, Vouloumanos A. 2012. Understanding the abstract role of speech in communication at 12 months. Cognition 123:50–60 [Google Scholar]
  96. Marušić B. 2015. Evidence and Agency Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  97. Mascaro O, Sperber D. 2009. The moral, epistemic, and mindreading components of children's vigilance towards deception. Cognition 112:367–80 [Google Scholar]
  98. McMyler B. 2011. Testimony, Trust and Authority Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  99. Mills CM. 2013. Knowing when to doubt: developing a critical stance when learning from others. Dev. Psychol. 49:404–18 [Google Scholar]
  100. Morgan TJH, Laland KN, Harris PL. 2015a. The development of adaptive conformity in young children: effects of uncertainty and consensus. Dev. Sci. 18:511–24 [Google Scholar]
  101. Morgan TJH, Uomini NT, Rendell LE, Chouinard-Thuly L, Street SE. et al. 2015b. Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language. Nat. Commun. 6:6029 [Google Scholar]
  102. Moses LJ, Baldwin DA, Rosicky JG, Tidball G. 2001. Evidence for referential understanding in the emotions domain at twelve and eighteen months. Child Dev 72:718–35 [Google Scholar]
  103. Pea RD. 1982. Origins of verbal logic: spontaneous denials by two- and three-year-olds. J. Child Lang. 9:597–626 [Google Scholar]
  104. Poulin-Dubois D, Brosseau-Liard P. 2016. The developmental origins of selective social learning. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 25:60–64 [Google Scholar]
  105. Reifen Tagar M, Federico CM, Lyons KE, Ludeke S, Koenig MA. 2014. Heralding the authoritarian? Orientation toward authority in early childhood. Psychol. Sci. 25:883–92 [Google Scholar]
  106. Robinson EJ, Einav S, Fox A. 2013. Reading to learn: prereaders’ and early readers’ trust in text as a source of knowledge. Dev. Psychol. 49:505–13 [Google Scholar]
  107. Ronfard S, Lane JD. 2017. Preschoolers continually adjust their epistemic trust based on an informant's ongoing accuracy. Child Dev In press [Google Scholar]
  108. Rowe ML. 2012. A longitudinal investigation of the role of quantity and quality of child-directed speech in vocabulary development. Child Dev 83:17–74 [Google Scholar]
  109. Sabbagh MA, Shafman D. 2009. How children block learning from ignorant speakers. Cognition 112:415–22 [Google Scholar]
  110. Shafto P, Eaves B, Navarro DJ, Perfors A. 2012. Epistemic trust: modeling children's reasoning about others’ knowledge and intent. Dev. Sci. 15:436–47 [Google Scholar]
  111. Shneidman L, Gweon H, Schulz LE, Woodward AL. 2016. Learning from others and spontaneous exploration: a cross‐cultural investigation. Child Dev 87:723–35 [Google Scholar]
  112. Shtulman A. 2013. Epistemic similarities between students’ scientific and supernatural beliefs. J. Educ. Psychol. 105:199–212 [Google Scholar]
  113. Shtulman A. 2017. Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories About the World Are So Often Wrong New York: Basic Books [Google Scholar]
  114. Shutts K, Banaji MR, Spelke ES. 2010. Social categories guide young children's preferences for novel objects. Dev. Sci. 13:599–610 [Google Scholar]
  115. Sobel DM, Kushnir T. 2013. Knowledge matters: how children evaluate the reliability of testimony as a process of rational inference. Psychol. Rev. 120:779–97 [Google Scholar]
  116. Song H-J, Onishi KH, Baillargeon R, Fisher C. 2008. Can an agent's false belief be corrected by an appropriate communication? Psychological reasoning in 18-month-old infants. Cognition 109:295–315 [Google Scholar]
  117. Sorce JF, Emde RN, Campos J, Klinnert MD. 1985. Maternal emotional signaling: its effect on the visual cliff behavior of 1-year-olds. Dev. Psychol. 21:195–200 [Google Scholar]
  118. Sosa E. 1991. Testimony and coherence. Knowledge in Perspective: Selected Essays in Epistemology215–22 Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  119. Spelke ES, Breinlinger K, Macomber J, Jacobson K. 1992. Origins of knowledge. Psychol. Rev. 99:605–32 [Google Scholar]
  120. Sperber D, Clément F, Heintz C, Mascaro O, Mercier H. et al. 2010. Epistemic vigilance. Mind Lang 25:359–93 [Google Scholar]
  121. Stenberg G. 2013. Do 12-month-old infants trust a competent adult. Infancy 18:873–904 [Google Scholar]
  122. Stephens EC, Koenig MA. 2015. Varieties of testimony: children's selective learning in semantic versus episodic domains. Cognition 137:182–88 [Google Scholar]
  123. Tamis-LeMonda CS, Adolph KE, Lobo SA, Karasik LB, Ishak S. et al. 2008. When infants take mothers’ advice: 18-month-olds integrate perceptual and social information to guide motor action. Dev. Psychol. 44:734–46 [Google Scholar]
  124. Tizard B, Hughes M. 1984. Young Children Learning London: Fontana [Google Scholar]
  125. Uccelli P, Phillips Galloway E, Barr CD, Meneses A, Dobbs CL. 2015. Beyond vocabulary: Core Academic Language Skills (CALS) that support text comprehension. Read. Res. Q. 50:337–56 [Google Scholar]
  126. Vouloumanos A, Onishi KH, Pogue A. 2012. Twelve-month-old infants recognize that speech can communicate unobservable intentions. PNAS 109:12933–37 [Google Scholar]
  127. Weizman ZO, Snow CE. 2001. Lexical input as related to children's vocabulary acquisition: effects of sophisticated exposure and support for meaning. Dev. Psychol. 37:265–79 [Google Scholar]
  128. Whiten A. 2017. Social learning and culture in child and chimpanzee. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 68:129–54 [Google Scholar]
  129. Whiten A, Ayala F, Feldman MD, Laland KN. 2017. The extension of biology through culture. PNAS 114:307775–81 [Google Scholar]
  130. Williams BAO. 1972. Knowledge and reasons. Problems in the Theory of Knowledge/Problèmes de la Théorie de la Connaissance GH Von Wright 1–11 Berlin: Springer [Google Scholar]
  131. Wilson D, Sperber D. 2002. Truthfulness and relevance. Mind 111:583–632 [Google Scholar]
  132. Woolley JE, Ghossainy M. 2013. Revisiting the fantasy–reality distinction: children as naïve skeptics. Child Dev 84:1496–510 [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error