Early Sensitivity to Arguments: How Preschoolers Weight Circular Arguments

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Forthcoming

18 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2013  

Hugo Mercier

University of Neuchatel

Stéphane Bernard

University of Neuchatel

Fabrice Clément

University of Neuchatel

Date Written: November 23, 2013

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Mercier, Hugo and Bernard, Stéphane and Clément, Fabrice, Early Sensitivity to Arguments: How Preschoolers Weight Circular Arguments (November 23, 2013). Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2358875

Hugo Mercier (Contact Author)

University of Neuchatel ( email )

Espace Louis Agassiz 1
Neuchâtel, 2000
Switzerland

Stéphane Bernard

University of Neuchatel ( email )

Avenue du 1er-Mars 26
Neuchâtel, 2000
Switzerland

Fabrice Clément

University of Neuchatel ( email )

Avenue du 1er-Mars 26
Neuchâtel, 2000
Switzerland

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