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To the letter: Children’s developing trust in the written word

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Children have many opportunities to learn about the world through the testimony of others. As well as spoken claims, they are constantly exposed to the written word and to people obtaining information from written materials. Yet, little is known about children’s awareness of the knowledge-providing potential of text, or their assumptions about its reliability as a source for learning. In this talk, I will present a series of studies that begin to address these questions while examining whether trust in text relates to the child’s ability to decode this medium for themselves. The work compares 3–6 year-olds’ trust in what is said versus what is read when (i) learning names for novel referents; (ii) interacting with a novel apparatus, and (iii) receiving unexpected information that conflicts with their prior knowledge. Consistently, the findings show that when children have a basic ability to decode text, but not before, they regard the written word as a particularly authoritative source of information. The clear developmental change between pre- and early readers suggests that children’s first-hand experience of extracting meaning from print underlies their trust in this medium.

This talk is part of the Psychology & Education series.

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