Early Sensitivity to Arguments: How Preschoolers Weight Circular Arguments
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Forthcoming
18 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2013
Date Written: November 23, 2013
Observational studies suggest that children as young as 2-year-olds can evaluate some of the arguments people offer them. However, experimental studies of sensitivity to different arguments have not yet targeted children younger than 5-year-olds. The present study aims at bridging this gap by testing the ability of preschoolers (3-, 4- and 5-year-olds) to weight arguments. To do so, it focuses a common type of fallacy — circularity — to which 5-year-olds are sensitive (Baum, Danovitch, & Keil, 2008). The present experiment asks children — and, as a group control, adults — to choose between the contradictory opinions of two speakers. In the first task, participants of all age groups favored an opinion supported by a strong argument over an opinion supported by a circular argument. In the second task, 4- and 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds or adults, favored the opinion supported by a circular argument over an unsupported opinion. We suggest that the results of these tasks in 3- to 5-year-olds are best interpreted as resulting from the combination of two mechanisms. On the one hand, basic skills of argument evaluations that process the content of arguments, allowing children as young as 3 to favor non-circular over circular arguments. On the other hand, a heuristic that leads older children (4- and 5-year-olds) to give some weight to circular arguments, possibly by interpreting these arguments as a cue to speaker dominance.
Keywords: Argumentation, Testimony, Circular Arguments, Reasoning, Preschoolers
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